Sheep rustler Andrew Piner has begun an 18-week prison sentence after being convicted of stealing livestock worth more than £5,000 from a field in the Peak District.
The 49-year-old Lancashire farm manager denied the offence, claiming he had been acting on behalf of his employer when he took the 49 sheep.
The story was found to be untrue and High Peak Magistrates found him guilty of theft.
The court heard that farmer David Robinson advertised 49 sheep for sale in the Farmers Guardian newspaper in September 2013.
Prosecutor Jennifer Fitzgerald said a potential buyer arranged to view the sheep at North Lees Farm in Hathersage, Dernyshire and agreed to buy the animals for £5,635. Mr Robinson said he wasn’t prepared to let the sheep be collected until the cheque had cleared. But it bounced because the account it related to had been closed.
When he went to his property on September 19, he discovered all 49 sheep had vanished. Mr Robinson then placed another advert in the Farmers Guardian reporting the theft and received several phone calls naming Piner, of Mill Lane, Gisburn, near Clitheroe, as the person who took the sheep. Police were informed and checks discovered 34 of the missing sheep were on a farm in Clitheroe where Piner was the farm manager.
His vehicle and mobile phone were also recorded as having been in Derbyshire on the day of the offence.
In interview Piner denied having any involvement in the theft. During his trial he said he had acted on behalf of his employer in purchasing the sheep and no dishonesty was intended. However his employer denied this.
The court heard that in January 2013 Piner had been sentenced to five weeks in prison, suspended for two years after being convicted of four offences of fraud. So the Hathersage offence was in breach of that order. Mrs Fitzgerald said none of the sheep had been recovered, although the farmer had been able to claim on his insurance for them, after paying an excess of £1,000.
Representing himself in court, Piner said: “I’m sorry for everything that’s gone on. I had a lot of problems and I just regret what happened really.”
Magistrate Eric Hilton said: “This offence was a high-value theft. It has been aggravated by your long record of previous dishonesty offences.
“This was also committed while you were on a suspended sentence order, so therefore we find the theft is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified.”
He was also given a further week’s imprisonment for the breach of the suspended sentence order, to run concurrently, and he must pay an £80 surcharge.