Cross-border warning after spate of livestock thefts

Cow in field The UFU estimates that about 173 cattle have disappeared from south Tyrone since January 2012

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The police on both sides of the Irish border have issued a warning to farmers after a spate of livestock thefts.

Last week, 14 bullocks were stolen from a field near Dungannon, County Tyrone, at a cost of more than £22,000.

Barclay Bell, vice president of the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU), said cattle rustling was a recurring problem in the south Tyrone area.

Mr Bell said the UFU estimated that "something like 173 cattle have disappeared" since January 2012.

'Financial drain'

"On top of that, there have been quite a few sheep that have been stolen as well, so there does seem to be a particular problem in that area."

"Up until now, it's probably something farmers haven't thought an awful lot about. I suppose we reckoned that when our livestock were in our fields they were safe.

"Every time one of these animals is stolen now, you can be talking £1,000 to £1,500 and it is a huge financial drain on the agricultural industry," Mr Bell added.

The UFU vice president said it was difficult to understand the level of theft, given the rules on livestock identification, registration and traceability.

"Despite all current regulations, where everything is traceable from day one, I suppose we just wonder if a lot of these livestock disappear across the border.

"Until probably we have had an arrest, until somebody has been apprehended for one of these crimes, we don't really know what is happening," Mr Bell told BBC Radio Ulster.

'Serious cost'

He said he believed the proximity of the border was a critical factor in livestock theft in south Tyrone and added that the UFU wanted to see better cooperation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Stormont's Department of Agriculture.

"It's so convenient to get stock shifted quickly, and certainly there were some initiatives launched by the PSNI in that area.

"Freeze branding was another alternative, where a permanent mark was actually put onto the animal, but all this comes at a cost, as does insurance, and it is a serious cost to the industry," Mr Bell said.

Earlier this month, insurance firm NFU Mutual put the estimated cost of rural crime in Northern Ireland in 2012 at £3.4m - a fall of almost 20% on the previous year.

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