Police hunt for attackers who butcher sheep for their meat
Sheep and lambs have been killed and butchered for their meat in a series of attacks on Westcountry farms, writes Andy Greenwood.
Devon and Cornwall Police said the butchers had struck on remote farmland at least eight times between November 2012 and February 2013, leaving the unwanted remains of the animals behind.
The attacks, in which some ten animals have been killed, occurred on farms in the Newton Abbot and Teign Valley areas.
Police warned people not to buy any mutton or lamb meat offered for sale as many of the animals had just been vaccinated, making the meat unfit for human consumption.
PC Lawrence Wills, based at Chudleigh, said: "There have been at least eight offences in recent weeks and months, both in the Higher Ashton and Ilsington areas.
"The manner in which most of the animals were attacked suggests that the person responsible may have some knowledge of butchery.
"Some of the animals killed recently had been vaccinated in the last two weeks. This is unusually late in the season because of the wet weather. Farmers usually leave at least two months after inoculation before the meat is toxin-free and put into the food chain.
"We would urge any individual or business not to buy any cheap mutton or lamb offered for sale in Devon and Cornwall because of the risks to human health."
In the attacks, the animals have been skinned and specific cuts of meat taken. In one instance just the shoulder joint was removed.
It is believed to be the first time thieves have struck in this way. However, sheep and cattle rustling has become a common problem in the region with hundreds of animals, thought to be destined for the illegal meat trade, having been stolen in recent years.
Organised gangs are thought to have been responsible for stealing tens of thousands of pounds' worth of animals at a time.
Devon and Cornwall Police are working with Teignbridge District Council's environmental health department to investigate the offences and are urging farmers to come forward to report any similar attacks.
"We would also like to hear from any farmers who may have seen similar offences on their land," PC Wills added. "It could be that they have not reported them or believed the animals to have been attacked by dogs or other animals."
Anyone with any information is asked to contact PC Wills on 101.