Northamptonshire Police is carrying out forensic examinations and dedicated rural patrols as investigations continue into reports of illegal sheep butchery.
In the last ten days the force has received at least four reports of animals being killed and butchered in their fields overnight, including incidents in Crick, Whilton, Kelmarsh and Rushton.
A further incident in which a lamb was found tied up with electrical fencing in Moulton is also being investigated, with a dedicated intelligence officer working on the cases which are being investigated under the name Operation Stock.
The force is also working with partners including Trading Standards and Environmental Health to share messages warning people against buying meat which could have come from unknown sources.
Chief Inspector James Willis said: “These crimes have naturally left our rural communities feeling vulnerable, and we’re working hard to find those responsible and provide support to those affected.
“Our Neighbourhood Policing Teams and rural crime officers are working with the local farming communities to provide advice and reassurance, and officers are also carrying out increased overnight patrols in the affected areas.
“We’ve also created signs encouraging people to be alert to suspicious activity in rural areas which are being distributed to farmers and landowners, and are encouraging anyone who sees anything which could indicate illegal activity of this sort to call us on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
“This could be the registration of a van parked in a field gateway, or a report of lights seen in a field at night – every piece of information has value so please get in touch with anything which could help.”
Cllr Jason Smithers, Northamptonshire County Council cabinet member responsible for Trading Standards, which oversees food and animal welfare enforcement in partnership with Environmental Health, added: “These cases raise real animal welfare and food safety concerns as the people doing this are following none of the legally required processes or standards.
“Being slaughtered in a field, not an approved slaughterhouse, means animal welfare considerations around handling and stunning are clearly being ignored, and those killing the animals are highly unlikely to be licensed slaughterers.
“In terms of the meat being taken, the hygiene and anti-contamination processes followed in slaughterhouses are also obviously not taking place, and the animals have been slaughtered without confirmation of food chain status.
“This means they may have recently received medication which would mean they could not enter the food chain for a set period of time, making their meat potentially unfit for consumption.
“Similarly the meat will not have undergone a meat hygiene inspection which would pick up any undetected illnesses the animals may have had when killed, and the meat will not be labelled or traceable as is required.
“If you are offered cheap meat, it may not be safe, nor meet animal welfare or food standards, so if you have any doubt, do not buy or eat it, and report your concerns to us or to the police.”
Anyone with information about any of the offences, or suspicious activity around livestock, should call Northamptonshire Police on 101, quoting Operation Stock. In an emergency, always call 999.
Contact Trading Standards via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline, open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm on 03454 04 05 06, or online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/