Thieves feared to have slaughtered more than 100 stolen sheep from farmer's flock

A farmer was left “stunned” when 116 sheep on his farm vanished from his flock of 460, with the missing livestock worth £17,000. Ed Lovejoy told Sky News he felt “sick” when he discovered the sheep were missing from his farm in Woodchurch, Kent. Mr Lovejoy initially suspected the animals had escaped, but after searching nearby areas there was no trace of the missing ewes. But the 40-year-old farmer soon discovered the truth as a witness reported seeing someone on a quad bike pushing the sheep to the side of the field.

Thieves had staged a raid to take the animals which are now feared to have either been slaughtered and their meat sold on the black market.

There are warnings that Britan could be seeing a “potential crime crisis” thanks to the soaring cost of living as the price of livestock soars.

But it’s not just rural crime that is on the rise, as thefts, shoplifting, and insurance fraud are also increasing.

Fraudsters are “weaponising” the situation with a series of scams and organised crime groups are said to be viewing the crisis as an opportunity to recruit.

Insurance company NFU Mutual has warned of an increase in rustling, and says that livestock worth £2.4m were stolen last year, with animals worth another £1.4m being taken in the first eight months of this year alone.

Mr Lovejoy said the theft of his Romney sheep, a Kent breed, would have a “knock-on effect” on his business for two to three years.

He suspects the animals were taken to a “dodgy abattoir” or killed and the meat sold by the criminals themselves.

Mr Lovejoy added: “There is years and years of breeding that goes into these sheep and you care for them all year round. For someone to just take them and steal them, it makes you feel pretty sick. I think they would have probably slaughtered them and put them into the food chain somehow.”

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Mr Lovejoy said he reported the theft to the police but the culprits have not been found.

He is now concerned the criminals will return and try to attempt to steal more. He said: “How do you secure 700 acres to stop people getting on it to steal sheep? I’m not sure it’s possible. It is a worry that they’re going to take more. If food becomes really expensive then there’s always a black market.

“If the cost of living crisis gets worse, there’s a chance we’re going to see more and more livestock thefts.”

A criminologist says the UK faces a “potential crime crisis” linked to the cost of living, including an increase in violence on the streets. Dr Robert Hesketh, from Liverpool John Moores University, told Sky News: “As the cost of living crisis starts to peak, I think there will be an increase (in crime) – I think it’s a no-brainer. In areas like mine – marginalised areas, areas of social exclusion – it’s going to shoot up, particularly with young people.”

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Dr Hesketh said organised crime groups view the cost of living crisis as “an opportunity to get more manpower, more people involved in street crime and drug dealing, and those in charge keep their hands clean”.

“With the organised crime groups around my area, it’s very territorial,” he added.

“As people get desperate, and organised criminals get more greedy, then they’ll start overtaking other people’s turf…. obviously that becomes violent.

“Violence is part and parcel of organised crime… that’s how they thrive. Without violence, they’re nothing.”

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