DNA evidence has been used for the first time in Britain to prove that a farmer in Wales stole his neighbour's cow in a court case this week, according to Welsh police.

Dyfed-Powys Police used DNA from a £3,000 (€3,541) heifer, which had been retagged by a neighbouring farmer after escaping from a field, to prove it had been stolen.

The blood samples were compared against cows on the victim’s farm to prove a familial link and secure a conviction.

David Aeron Owens, of Salem Road, St Clears, pleaded guilty to theft at Swansea Crown Court on Monday, February 3; the farmer was sentenced and ordered to pay a £4,000 (€4,722) fine and £400 (€472) in costs.

PC Gareth Jones, officer in case, said:

“This has been a long and protracted enquiry, and it has taken a lot of work and patience to get to this point.

"Without the use of the heifer’s DNA we would not have been able to prove that it had been stolen by Mr. Owens, and that he had tried to alter identification tags to evade prosecution.

We are proud to be the first force in [Britain] to use a cow’s DNA in a criminal case, and will continue to use innovative methods to get justice for victims.

The investigation started in December 2017, when a farmer in St Clears reported the theft of one of his 300 cows which had escaped from his field four months earlier.

Owens had denied the missing animal was on his land, but the victim recognised it among the herd.

PC Jones visited the farm and was handed a cow passport, listing ear tag numbers for the cow in question and the animal Owens alleged was its mother.

PC Jones applied for a warrant to seize the stolen cow, which was separated from the herd and had blood samples taken for DNA comparison.

“Under advice from the Animal Plant Health Agency, and due to regulations about moving cows, the disputed animal remained on Mr. Owens’ farm,” PC Jones said. “He agreed to look after it on behalf of the police.

“It was established through DNA tests that the heifer listed on the cow passport was not related to the disputed cow.”

In March 2018, a Welsh Government field officer went to the farm and seized the stolen heifer’s passport. She told Owens she would return the following week to check the tags on his herd.

Arrangements were made for further samples to be taken by a vet, which were compared with a cow on the victim’s farm.

They were proven to be siblings, and based on the DNA results, CPS authorised charges against Owens. He was summonsed to court and pleaded guilty to theft.

This is the first time DNA blood from a heifer has been used in relation to a criminal court case.

PC Jones said: “I must thank the victim in this case for the determination shown in wanting to see justice being done. It has been a long investigation, but we hope he is satisfied with the outcome.

"What this case shows us is that where the farming community works with the police, reporting crimes and providing us with vital information, we can be successful in taking out prosecutions.

“I echo comments made by the judge, who said Owens, as a farmer, would be well aware of the need for a level of trust in the rural community. In committing these offences, he has played a part in breaking down that trust, which will be difficult to build back up.”

During the criminal investigation, Owens started his own proceedings against Dyfed-Powys Police over the way blood samples were taken from the cow as he had not been willing for this to happen.

A judicial review found the force was lawful in obtaining blood samples from the animal.

Owens was sentenced to a £4,000 fine and must pay £400 costs, the police force concluded.