A WIGAN sheep rustler who stole £35,000 worth of lifestock has been jailed.
Thomas Redfern, 25, denied being involved in the burglary of 88 ewes after the animals were taken in raids at Curwen Hill Farm, Wray, near Lancaster and Newton Hall Farm, Skipton - where he had worked - nearly two years ago.
But he was found unanimously guilty of two counts of theft relating to the sheep and was jailed for 21 months.
Andrew Piner, 45, of Deer House Cottages, Gisburn, who was the manager of Lathams Farm near Slaidburn - where the ewes were found - was jailed for 34 months after he admitted theft at an earlier hearing.
The pair were snared following an extensive investigation in which DNA evidence was taken from the suspected stolen ewes following a raid at Lathams Farm.
Preston Crown Court heard how one victim, farmer Dan Towers, had invested his life savings in his flock at Curwen Hill Farm.
In September 2013, Redfern, of Chisholme Close, Standish, was working as a stockman at the Skipton farm when 30 crossbred mule ewes were stolen, with a value of £5,000.
Five months later in February 2014, 58 pregnant pedigree Beltex and recipient mule ewes carrying Beltrex embryos were stolen following a burglary at Curwen Hill Farm.
Judge Simon Newell said the Forest of Bowland was an area of outstanding natural beauty and added: “It’s almost entirely dependent on agriculture. Agriculture has been here for many hundreds of years - it’s an essential and historic part of life.”
He added the community - of which the defendants had been a part of - strived in “beautiful but difficult” conditions.
PC Andrew Massingham, Community Beat and Wildlife officer for the Lower Lune Valley and investigating officer said: “These thefts had a significant impact locally as they were committed by people working within and trusted by the farming community. It is completely unacceptable that people in such positions carried out these despicable crimes which affected the lives and livelihoods of the victims.
“We work very closely with the NFU and farmers in the area and we have created the Farmers Network. There is a very close working relationship with the rural community and the outcome of this case sends a clear and unequivocal message that crime within rural areas with be investigated and those concerned will be brought to justice for their actions.”
Sgt Mark Hill, of Skipton Police, said: “This result sends a strong message that criminals who prey on our rural communities will be caught and dealt with.
“We have a strong, ongoing focus on tackling rural crime issues, including livestock theft, and our innovative partnership with the NFU is training officers across the force to deal with complex investigations of this nature.
“This prosecution was made possible by a member of the farming community coming to the police with their concerns, and as a result we were able to take action. I would urge anyone who sees suspicious activity in rural areas to contact the police or Crimestoppers, as together we can fight rural crime.”