Rustlers strike in Tyrone again as £35k herd stolen
Criminal gangs are smuggling stolen cattle across the border where they are being slaughtered for sale on the black market, it is feared.
The warning comes after a spate of livestock thefts from farms in the south Tyrone area in recent months.
Some 173 cattle have been stolen since the start of 2012 – but police have yet to make any arrests.
In the latest incident, a herd of cattle worth £35,000 were snatched from a field near Augher.
People in the south Tyrone area believe the thefts are being carried out by one professional gang.
In the past week the PSNI and gardai have issued appeals warning farmers in border areas to step up security.
A Garda spokesman said it is believed some cattle are taken to illegal slaughterhouses and killed for meat, which is then sold cheaply by rogue distributors on the black market.
Harry Sinclair from the Ulster Farmers' Union said he had heard similar reports, and warned it risked causing more damage to the meat industry.
"It is something we would have great concerns about," he said.
"Our industry got a bad reputation over the horse meat scandal.
"The last thing our industry needs is a few cowboys putting our industry at risk."
A Freedom of Information request reveals that 173 cattle had been reported stolen in south Tyrone since January 2012.
Yet not one arrest has been made in the area for cattle theft.
Two weeks ago thieves stole £35,000 worth of cattle from a field on the Favour Royal Road near Augher. The haul included 14 Friesian bullocks and 21 Friesian cows.
A further 14 bullocks were taken from a field near Dungannon last Monday night. Mr Sinclair said livestock was disappearing "by the lorry-load", with farmers left counting the cost.
"It is very widespread and it is large scale – we're talking lorry-loads of cattle at a time," he added.
"A lot of farmers are covered by insurance, but insurance never compensates fully. A theft will often result in premiums going up.
"People aren't turning up on spec, generally someone will have done a surveillance to see a stock's movements and where the best place is to get them loaded."
A PSNI spokesman said: "In February of this year, police carried out a number of intelligence led searches in relation to livestock theft in the Clogher Valley, and have been working with the community and other agencies over a number of months to address this issue.
"Rural crimes present a challenge to police, given the isolation of some farms, and the lack of CCTV in the countryside. "Whilst police are working with the community to try and apprehend those responsible, it is important to deter criminals from taking animals in the first place."
* Police figures reveal 173 cattle were stolen in the south Tyrone area between January 2012 and April this year.
* The majority of thefts took place in the Clogher (37) and Aughnacloy (35) areas.
* No arrests were made for cattle theft in this period.
* A special task force has been set up to deal with the problem.