Three men have been jailed for a total of over eleven years following a campaign of barbaric illegal sheep butchery across Northamptonshire.
Robert Iordan, Florin Nutu and Viorel Manu's attacks on sheep and lambs in the dead of night throughout last summer had the county's farmers gripped in fear.
But they were hunted down by Northamptonshire Police's rural crime team, acting on key information from NFU members and farmers, and arrested.
All three eventually pleaded guilty and were sentenced at Northampton crown court on Friday 27 March.
Iordan, 23, and Nutu, 36, were both handed jail terms of four years and four months and Manu, 39, was ordered to serve two years and 11 months inside. The trio were all from Birmingham.
NFU county adviser for Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland, Harriet Ranson, who was involved in the case from the beginning and liaised with police throughout, said she was delighted with the outcome.
“These crimes were horrific, barbaric and unprecedented and had the whole livestock farming community in Northamptonshire and neighbouring counties living in fear that they would be next for months," she said.
"It is fantastic to see the courts treating these appalling crimes with the seriousness they deserve and handing down suitably lengthy prison terms to these dangerous men.
“This case really highlights how important local information from farmers, the NFU and the public is in helping to bring offenders before the courts.
“We hope this case sends out a clear message to anyone planning to do something similar – you will get caught and you will get punished.”
Between 22 June and 7 October last year, farmers had their livelihoods hit hard by the three men, who travelled across rural areas in the county, killing and butchering sheep in order to steal the meat and profit from it.
In total, 12 reports of illegal butchery were made to Northamptonshire Police during this period, with the Operation Stock investigation launched in response.
Lead investigator, DC Jamie Cooper, said: “These crimes caused farmers a great deal of upset and anger last year and I’d like to thank them and the wider rural community for their support and patience during our investigation.
“There was extensive media coverage when these incidents were taking place and I am very pleased we have achieved a successful outcome with all three men pleading guilty to their crimes.
“Operation Stock was a huge team effort and I hope this case shows just how hard we will work to protect the livelihoods of our farming and rural communities, who were deeply affected by this crime series.”