Coventry & Warwickshire

Sheep butchered in fields by 'professional gangs'

Sheep and lamb in a field
Image caption Eighty sheep or lambs have been butchered in Warwickshire

Sheep are being illegally butchered in fields by semi-professional gangs, police say.

Eighty sheep and lambs have been reported slaughtered in Warwickshire in 2019, while up to 40 have been butchered in the West Mercia area.

A number of animals have also been stolen from farms.

Police believe the meat could be going into the illegal food chain and are urging rural communities to be vigilant.

Image caption John Clarke has lost 61 sheep in the past month

Farmer John Clarke, from Manor Farm in Harborough Magna, near Rugby, has lost 61 sheep in the past month in three separate incidents of theft and butchery.

The remains of 24 of his lambs were discovered butchered in a field near the M6 motorway in April and in March, he found 19 of his animals slaughtered. He has also had 18 stolen over two consecutive nights.

He said: "There'll be a lot of blood about, a lot of legs left lying about, anything that you can't eat is just left behind in a big heap.

"We go from being upset now to being a bit angry. The fact that they've come back again for more and the sheep we pride ourselves on being well looked after here are having such a rough end to their life."

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Farmer Charlotte Johnson, from Wasperton near Warwick, appealed on social media for help in March when CCTV captured thieves beating a sheep before taking it away.

The remains were later found in a bin in Coventry.

Image caption Remains of butchered sheep were found in Coventry

She said: "Our next door neighbour, he's had sheep go missing and found guts and things in the field. We've found pools of blood, gates off hinges that they've used to round them up."

Warwickshire Police, now working with forces across the Midlands, is urging rural communities to be vigilant.

Insp Allison Wiggin, Warwickshire rural crime officer, said police believe the meat is going in to the illegal food chain.

"It seems to be on a semi-professional level that the carcasses have been stripped of their meat", she said.

Farmers are being advised to take steps to prevent theft, which include checking sheep overnight and parking vehicles to block access.

Image caption The NFU warns the public to be wary of illegal meat

Julian Douthwaite, chairman of NFU Warwickshire, said people should be wary if they are offered meat of unknown origin.

He said: "Putting it in to the food chain is a worrying aspect as well because there's no control over the hygiene and the fact of whether that meat is fit for human consumption."

Warwickshire Police said a man was arrested on 16 April on suspicion of animal cruelty and other offences after finding a dead sheep in his car.

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