A SHEEP rustler’s crimes were discovered after the rightful owner of stolen livestock recognised his animals for sale at Hereford market.

Daniel Smith, 25, was jailed for eight months after stealing sheep worth £87,000 from four fellow farmers around Marden and Sutton St Nicholas, near Hereford.

Prosecution barrister Edward Soulsby told Worcester Crown Court on August 4 that Smith stole the sheep between November 2020 and January 2021 from fields near his farm.

The court heard 652 sheep were stolen, but 604 were returned. The 48 others were presumed dead or sold.

The animals which were returned were not in the best of health resulting in a drop of value, the farmers said, and one victim said the sheep’s condition was “extremely poor”.

It was only “sheer coincidence” Smith, of Upper Court in Sutton St Nicholas, was caught, Mr Soulsby said. One of the four victims, L Thomas & Sons, recognised the stolen sheep’s markings when he saw them in the pen next to his at Hereford Livestock Market.

In two interviews with police, Smith admitted stealing 308 sheep from L Thomas & Sons, 74 sheep from Richard Morgan, 167 from AJ & JM Abberley, and 103 sheep worth from Martin Skyrme – worth £87,640 in total.

Mr Soulsby said it must have had “quite a serious impact” for the farmers to lose so many sheep.

Defence barrister Emily Heggadon said smith gave his “sincerest apologies” and was ashamed to be in court.

The lambing season in 2020 was difficult, leading to financial worries, and he saw sheep rustling as a "way out". He knew the nearby fields well, and opened a gate or cut a fence to get the sheep out before transporting them away.

Ms Heggadon said Smith had no previous convictions, pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, and made an effort to speak to the victims. References also showed he was someone “well-respected” in the community.

Judge Nicholas Cole jailed Smith for eight months. A proceeds of crime application will be heard later.