Sheep rustlers put behind baaaaas for fleecing farmers
Two members of a sheep farming family whose rustling caused police to hold identity parades for stolen ewes have each been jailed for three years.
Former Swaledale champion breeder Charles "Neville" Raine, 66, and his nephew Phillip, 47, were found to have 116 sheep which did not belong to them at their farms.
They belonged to 14 farmers from County Durham, Cumbria and North Yorkshire.
The Nevilles, who farm near Bowes, County Durham, were convicted last month at Teesside Crown Court of conspiracy to use criminal property.
Police held identity parades for the rightful owners to claim their livestock after the sheep discovered at the farms were found to have had their markers removed.
That included horn brands, ear tags and the markings farmers paint on their animals' wool.
The animals had gone missing between 2010 and 2013.
Judge Tony Briggs said: "It is not just about the money, it was an attack on people's hard work, people who have gone to a lot of trouble to develop their bloodlines.
"It is entirely and utterly inexcusable."
The court heard the value of the stolen sheep at auction would have been around £25,000, but the loss to the individual farmers was more as they missed out on the lambs that would have been born.
The bloodlines of their flocks, improved over many years, were also weakened by the thefts, and some ewes required veterinary treatment after their stay with the Raines.
John Addison, a neighbour who had 50 sheep stolen, said in a victim statement he felt "betrayed" by the Raines, whom he had helped on many occasions.
He estimated his personal loss to be up to £20,000.
Another farmer said his wife felt uneasy about being left alone on their Pennine property following the thefts, while another said: "They have been prepared to see their neighbours suffer from hardship for which they have been the cause."
Victim Robert Hutchinson said in a statement to the court: "As a Swaledale sheep farmer I don't make a great deal of money. We work seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year, often in difficult circumstances such as bad weather conditions."
He said the way to make extra money in the business was to pursue pedigree bloodlines, and this had been spoiled by the Raines, potentially causing harm to his business for years.
Sam Faulks, prosecuting, said: "Everyone who is involved in sheep farming accepts it is a difficult job, they are not in competition with one another.
"Therefore to use your neighbours' sheep, full in the knowledge that your neighbour has as difficult job as you, fully in the knowledge what effect that will have on your neighbour, makes this a low crime."
The hill farmers kept their flocks hefted on common moorland and it was accepted practice for sheep that did not belong to them to be returned to their rightful owner.
The court heard that the Raines, who have since been ostracised, betrayed the trust their community relied on.
Denise Breen-Lawton, for the nephew, said it was clear he was not the "brains of the operation".
He was paid £300 a month from the family business and his family might lose their home as a result of him being jailed, the court heard.
She said: "It is going to hang over him for the rest of his life."
Andrew Haslam, for the uncle, said Neville Raine had won trophies for his Swaledale sheep, and examples of his flock appeared in books.
He said the older defendant had been a man of positive good character who now had diabetes and osteoarthritis in his hip. He walked into court with a stick.
Neville Raine had married and now lived in York, away from the family business, the court heard.
Judge Briggs said the Raines's claim that the sheep turned up at their farms by accident, without their knowledge, was dismissed by the jury.
He said it was not clear how the sheep ended up at their farms, whether they were stolen deliberately or just not returned, and it did not "matter a jot" to the sentence.
"They were other people's sheep, you knew it, and you decided to keep them," he said.
The stealing had a corrosive effect on the community, he said, describing both men as cynical.
Phillip Raine, he said, had a predatory attitude towards his victims, and the judge told him: "This is a dreadful business, you preyed upon neighbours, effectively."
A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing to recover the defendants' gains from the thefts will take place later.