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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Cumbrian farmer who stole sheep jailed for three years

A farmer who stole sheep and tried to sell them when they could have contained drugs that may be lethal to people has been jailed.

Robert Birnie photo
Robert Birnie

Related: Sheep stealing conviction is 'victory for Cumbrian farmers'

Robert Birnie, 47, who was sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment, had taken the livestock and then attempted to cash in on them at Longtown Auction Mart. But the man who owned the animals spotted them and halted the sale.

Investigations found Birnie, of Moat, near Longtown, had stolen other sheep from him and sold them at auctions.

Carlisle Crown Court heard the sheep spotted while up for sale had been destined for immediate entry into the human food chain.

They had been injected only two months before with a substance that could be “lethal to people”.

The court was told Birnie did not specifically know they had been injected – but was still reckless.

Brendan Burke, prosecuting, said that as soon as Mr Waring, of Penton, put livestock onto the land “it was clear that sheep were disappearing”.

“They were being put into trucks and taken to various auction markets around the county,” he told the court.

A jury had previously unanimously found Birnie guilty of sheep theft and intimidation. The court was told that during the trial Birnie had shouted abuse and threats at a witness at his home while the trial was underway.

Mark Shepherd, in mitigation, said reputation in this industry and community was everything – and Birnie had lost that completely. He will now be known as someone who can’t be trusted,” he told the court.

“The damage done to his reputation is in essence punishment to him more than it may be to others.”

He added there was “no overt threat of violence” in the witness intimidation.

The judge, Miss Recorder Abigail Hudson, said Birnie began by stealing one or two sheep and “when you noticed he hadn’t noticed you became arrogant”.

She added the reason sheep theft was rare was because farmers relied on the trust of their neighbours. Birnie was sentenced to three years for the theft and nine months for the intimidation, to be served consecutively.

He must also pay compensation of more than £2,000.

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