Truck drivers hauling animals should be on alert for fake animal welfare inspectors, officials in Northern Ireland have said.

The warning follows an incident on Wednesday night in which a gang of men posing as DAERA (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) officials flagged down a livestock truck on the M1 motorway near Portadown, Co Armagh.

The gang's intentions are not clear, but it is believed they may have intended to steal the lorry - and its load.

The PSNI and DAERA are urging anyone who is approached by someone purporting to be an official inspector to look for an identification card.

Danny Gray, a veterinary enforcement officer with DAERA, said: “Our inspectors always carry official identification cards.

“If in any doubt, livestock transporter drivers should therefore ask to see the identification of anyone who attempts to stop or inspect their vehicle.

“While DAERA does carry out roadside checks on livestock transport on a regular basis, this is only ever done in conjunction with the PSNI, and only in very exceptional circumstances would it be necessary on a motorway,” he said.

Superintendent Brian Kee of the PSNI said: “We would reiterate the advice from our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, and would urge drivers to ensure they check identification of all inspectors at all times.

Where a driver suspects a bogus inspector incident we would encourage them to note the registration number of any vehicle they are using and report this.