Lancashire Sheep Thefts Initiative

Thefts of sheep in the county led to on farm training for police and a protocol for dealing with suspected stolen stock. Network of other farmers and auctions established who would assist if suspected stolen stock were encountered. Facilitating reasonable time for the police to properly investigate and deal with the situation leading to better outcomes.

Adam Briggs - National Farmers Union
Contact by Email: or by Phone: 01695 554 912
Lancashire, England
Crime Type
The problem
Following the theft of some sheep in Lancashire a gap in the knowledge of the police was identified to tackle this sort of crime. This was addressed by organising on farm training for officers and drawing up a protocol for them to follow when they suspect livestock are stolen. To assist them we put together a support network of farmers and auctions who can assist the police if they believe livestock have been stolen.


Sheep were stolen from a farm in Lancashire and found using social media.  When the police attended they had little knowledge of what to do in the situation and how to ascertain if the sheep were stolen.  They also didn’t know what to do with them to contain them whilst investigations were made.

Identifying the problem

Following theft of sheep from a farm in Lancashire, the animals were located through social media. However once the police had attended, there were difficulties in proceeding as it became apparent that the officers had little knowledge of what to do in the situation, how to positively ascertain that they were stolen animals and then how to retain them as the investigations proceeded on the basis that they were stolen stock.


The sheep ended up being held at a neighbouring farm for a considerable period of time while their identity was ascertained.  This was done through DNA testing as the sheep were in lamb to rams still on their owner’s farm.

Legislation changes - Existing

Worked with the Animal and Plant Heath Authority to address concerns over movement restrictions which could be imposed if farmers and auctions held suspected stolen stock for a period of time.  This allows the business holding the stock to continue to trade normally

Legislation changes - New

No changes currently required. As other forces have become aware of the scheme and interested in setting one up, it would probably have made things easier if different police forces could communicate with each other better


We organised a meeting between police and NFU to discuss the problem in general.

The Police identified a group of rural crime and wildlife officers and the NFU organised some on farm sheep awareness training.  They were also given a protocol to follow when they believe stock was stolen, drawn up in conjunction with the NFU.  The use of police evidence tags was also devised.

NFU called a meeting of interested industry stakeholders to support the scheme by providing scenes of crime experts and holding suspect stock for a short time, funded by NFU Mutual.

Other agencies were engaged (Food Standards Agency) to address other areas where stolen stock ended  up, such as in unlicensed abattoirs.

Finally, we established an intelligence gathering network via Facebook which was set up with the support of the Young Farmers Club.  This is used to both publicise stolen stock and gather intelligence which is passed on to the police.

What worked

The farming community and the police engaged in the scheme very well.  Livestock thefts in the county have reduced on the back of the publicity around the scheme. It was easier than expected to get farmers and auctions to agree to hold stock the police believe are stolen.

What didn't work

All went very well really. The social networking side of things hasn’t taken off as much as we would like, probably because of the various different schemes offering similar things (Farmwatch for example)


As stated before we have seen a reduction of reported livestock thefts in the county.  We now have a very strong working relationship between the Police and the farming community in Lancashire.  It’s also been helpful as it is a cross industry initiative so it has presented very much a united front to farmers and criminals.  It has also increased awareness of rural crime with the police and farmers

Lessons learnt

Mapping out all organisations which have an interest and which we should contact before setting up the scheme would have been useful (e.g. Food Standards Agency).  This is to make sure we don’t miss out anyone who would be potentially beneficial to include.

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