One police charge over 10,000 stolen sheep in England and Wales

Image caption A total of 9,635 sheep were stolen in 2018, a Freedom of Information request revealed

The theft of nearly 10,000 sheep across England and Wales last year has only resulted in one charge by police, the BBC can reveal.

A Freedom of Information request showed 9,635 sheep were stolen in 2018, up from 7,606 in 2017 and 6,337 in 2016.

Humberside saw the biggest jump in the number of sheep theft incidents in 2018, while Dorset and North Yorkshire had the joint second highest.

Police in Dorset said there was a lack of resources to tackle rural crime.

All 43 police forces across England and Wales responded to the BBC, giving details of 381 incidents of sheep theft last year. But Hertfordshire Police was the only force to bring a charge.

Image caption Dorset Farmer John Hoskin says more sheep are being taken at one time

A rural insurance company said it believed organised criminal gangs were stealing the animals for slaughter, with sheep fetching up to £90 each last year.

John Hoskin, who runs a farm near Dorchester in Dorset, said sheep had regularly been taken from his fields and the numbers had gone up with each raid.

Mr Hoskin said sheep theft had resulted in him losing between £40,000 and £50,000 in recent years, which had led him to question his future in farming.

He said: "Do we get rid of the sheep and say 'forget it, we're not going to provide illegal income for somebody else?'"

Image caption Dorset Police rural crime officer Tom Balchin said officers needed the public to help

Dorset Police has two dedicated rural officers in the county.

One of those, PCSO Tom Balchin, said a lack of resources to tackle the crime had been "frustrating" for him and the community.

"We're constrained to what we've got, and that's where we need the public to help us as well as people reporting things," he said.

Tim Price, from NFU Mutual, which insures three quarters of UK farms, said a "significant number" of sheep had been stolen from farms that had not experienced thefts before, with cases of more than 100 animals being taken at once.

"It's organised gangs, they've got big vehicles, they've got the skills to round up sheep and take them away," he said.

"And very often they've got an outlet for them as well."

You can see more on this story on BBC Inside Out in the south and south-west of England on BBC One at 20:30 GMT on Monday 11 March and on the BBC iPlayer.

Total number of sheep stolen in England and Wales

Source: FoI responses from police forces

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