Rise in Devon sheep rustling sparks security warning

image captionButchers say a rise in stolen meat could affect legitimate traders

Farmers are being urged to improve security following the theft of hundreds of lambs in Devon.

In recent months, more than a dozen separate incidents of sheep rustling have been reported to police in north Devon.

Devon and Cornwall Police want farmers to report all incidents where livestock or equipment is stolen, to help them gauge the true extent of the problem.

In many instances police say lax security measures are to blame.

Officers say tagging sheep and ensuring there is no easy access to fields should help foil the criminals.

Police community support officer Gareth Woolway said: "We're edging towards the organised crime aspect through the numbers.

"However, we also have to look at the possibility it could be local persons within the area."

Legitimate butchers and traders fear the increase in the availability of stolen meat in Devon is becoming more of a problem and affecting them.

"The theft of livestock will make my product seem expensive," Bishops Tawton butcher Dudley Elliott told BBC News.

"People buying meat out the back of a van are expecting to buy cheap meat."

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