Gangs behind a spate of illegal field butchery incidents have killed and stolen the carcases of more than 700 sheep across three counties in England, AgriLand can reveal.

The incidents, which have taken place in over the last seven months, are being investigated as part of Operation Stock, the Northamptonshire Police investigation into a number of reports of illegal sheep butchery and thefts in the county.

Investigators are working with colleagues at neighbouring forces – including Warwickshire Police and Leicestershire Police – which have seen a spate of similar crimes in their areas.

Police investigating have remarked that many of the lambs appear to have been professionally slaughtered and their carcasses have then been stolen. In many cases, only the skins and guts are left behind.

Figures collected by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) show that since February 2019, a total of 735 sheep have been killed in 48 incidents, broken down as follows:

  • Warwickshire: 23 incidents, 279 sheep killed;
  • Leicestershire: 7 incidents, 130 sheep killed;
  • Northants: 18 incidents, 326 sheep killed.

George Bostock, NFU Warwickshire county adviser, said: “The illegal slaughter of animals is abhorrent and we would urge anyone with information to get in touch with the police.

“These are unprecedented, horrific crimes being carried out by an organised gang of criminals who appear to have an operation with an outlet to sell this illegal slaughtered and stolen meat.

“Those farmers who have been affected are devastated and the wider farming community is extremely concerned at the scale of the problem.

The NFU is calling on local farmers to be the eyes and ears of the police and report anything suspicious.

“We’re urging shoppers to buy meat from a recognised source – and the best way of doing that is by looking out for the UK health mark and the Red Tractor logo which means the product is traceable, safe and farmed with care.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Northamptonshire Police on 101 referencing 'Operation Stock'.

Information about suspicious activity in rural areas or around livestock can also be reported to Northamptonshire Police on 101. In an emergency, call 999.