TWO men have become the first in Lancashire for 25 years to be convicted of sheep rustling.

It follows the theft of 55 pregnant ewes from a farm in the Ribble Valley.

James Hesketh, 20, of Wheatsheaf Avenue, Longridge was found guilty of handling stolen after a four-day trial.

A second man, John Kirkham, 65, of Whittingham Lane, Goosnargh, had earlier pleaded guilty to theft.

The sheep, valued between £10,000 and £15,000, were stolen from a field in Chipping in the early hours of February 28. They were found on a farm in Durham five days later. Det Con Elaine Smalley said: “This has been a long and complex investigation which has resulted in the conviction of two men who were part of the local farming community. “This type of crime leaves the law-abiding close-knit farming community in the Ribble Valley feeling betrayed by people who purport to be farmers.”

“We do a lot of work with local farmers and carry out regular operations aimed at raising awareness of the importance of crime prevention, particularly in isolated rural communities.”

“We used specialist forensic evidence to link the sheep back to the victim which is the first time a scientist has carried out DNA testing to prove parentage for a criminal case. I hope this acts as a warning to people who think it is acceptable to commit crime in Lancashire.”

Rachel Parker, Senior Crown Prosecutor, added: “We encourage all victims and witnesses to report these crimes to the police at the earliest opportunity.” The two men will be sentenced at a later date.