Rustling crimewave sees 10,000 cattle stolen in three years
Almost 10,000 cattle have been stolen across Northern Ireland in the last three years - with the vast majority never seen again.
Shocking figures reveal the extent of the cattle rustling crimewave facing the farming industry.
Just days ago thieves got away with four pedigree Limousin heifers, some in calf, from a field in Ballymena. The animals are said to be worth up to £40,000.
Since the start of 2013 a total of 9,745 cattle have been snatched. Just 219 - around 2% - have been recovered.
The crime spree emerged following an Assembly question from DUP peer Lord Morrow, who has voiced his astonishment at the extent of cattle rustling here.
Sheep thefts could be even more alarming but there are no figures available to confirm this.
The figures from the Department of Agriculture show that in 2013 a total of 3,861 cattle were stolen in Northern Ireland. Only 119 were reported as being recovered.
During that year, Newry proved to be the hotspot for thefts with 817 cattle going missing, closely followed by Dungannon and Armagh with numbers totalling 624 and 604 respectively.
The figures were just as bad in 2014 when a total of 3,738 cattle were stolen and only 80 recovered. Newry and Armagh proved the most likely areas for thefts this time with numbers stolen at 619 and 646.
And this year is looking no better with 2,146 cattle stolen so far and a mere 20 recovered.
In 2013 the total number of incidents involving cattle thefts was 1,557; in 2014 it was 1,641 and in 2015, so far, there have been 848 incidents.
Lord Morrow had previously received concerning figures of cattle thefts in counties Tyrone and Fermanagh.
"I note DARD have no way of finding out the details of theft investigations and I would therefore call on more active engagement from the PSNI," he said.
"It is vital the community are made fully aware of these crimes and their outcomes. It could go a significant way to enhance detection, awareness and deterrent."
He added: "I repeat my previous concerns that there needs to be enhanced co-operation between police forces and processing plants.
"There is no way these animals are simply evaporating into thin air. They are being targeted by experienced thieves. There has been a sizeable lack of prosecutorial action also and therefore the deterrent factor is absent."
In a separate Assembly response, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said she was "very aware" of the concern that crime causes in the farming community, particularly thefts from farms.
She said responsibility for tackling rural crime lies primarily with the Department of Justice.
"I met with the Chief Constable and the Minister of Justice on a number of occasions to discuss rural crime issues including farm-related rural crime," she said. "I made them aware of my concerns, explained the worry this was causing in rural areas and highlighted the need for action.
"My veterinary service enforcement branch works closely with the PSNI in Fermanagh, South Tyrone and across the north to counter animal-related theft and fraud.
"Together they have carried out a number of successful operations resulting in several successful prosecutions."