Northamptonshire sheep slaughter drone patrols launched
Night drone patrols have been launched by police investigating the slaughter of almost 80 sheep in a spate of attacks since the start of July.
It is thought the animals have been killed on farms in Northamptonshire before being butchered and sold illegally to restaurants and shops.
Officers have said the drone will be used alongside extra ground patrols.
"A lot of the crimes have happened in quite remote locations," said Sgt Sam Dobbs, from Northamptonshire Police.
"You physically can't see from the road what's going on.
"The drone can cover such a large area and see such a lot at night with the thermal imaging."
Mr Dobbs said the "problem was wider than just one county" and the killings seemed to be happening in areas close to major road networks as the butchered animals could be taken away quickly.
About 80 sheep have been killed and butchered on farms in the county in seven attacks since the start of July, while a 77-strong flock was also recently stolen.
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Signs urging residents to report anything suspicious have been sent to farmers and landowners to put up as part of the investigation, called Operation Stock.
Farmer Phil Neal, whose livestock was first hit, told how it was "the worst thing that my children have witnessed" when the remains of 14 lambs were discovered near Crick.
Police have also been working with trading standards and environmental health officers over concerns the meat could enter the food chain.
Earlier this week, police said a 40-year-old man, from Hampshire, arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and theft had been released under investigation.