'Cunning' rustlers in brazen sheep thefts

Police are wondering just how many sheep may be missing after Hawke's Bay Today was told of up to 10 lambs being stolen recently in three separate incidents in an area on both sides of the Ngaruroro River.

Officers had not been told of all of the incidents and Senior Sergeant Ross Smith, of the new police Eastern District Command Centre, said yesterday sheep theft hadn't been "flagged" as something that was "trending upwards", although they were known to increase seasonally around Christmas.

"We do need to know about them, because it helps build up a bit of a pattern," he said.

The latest incidents indicated specific targeting and Mr Smith said that while such thefts tended to happen "in the early hours", thieves were "casing" the properties in the days beforehand. Police needed to know not only about the thefts, but also about suspicious vehicles or people which could be related.

Recalling a backyard home-kill trade exposed when police stopped a car with 14 sheep inside in May 2010, and the finding of 11 hog-tied lambs in a hatchback car in Hastings last February, veteran stock buyer and farmer Don McLeod said he was unaware of significant thefts in recent times.

"But these guys are cunning," he said. "They know what they're looking for. Fat lambs, and in these small-holding yards, where they don't have to run around all over the place to catch them."

Latest thefts have taken place south of the river around Twyford, and north of the river around Omahu, with one small property hit twice since Christmas.

After the latest incident at the weekend, the victim said in a text message: "Sheep owners beware. The thieves are out at night again. Please report stock thefts. I didn't for the 1st one so they came and stole 4 more."

Fearing thieves might return again, she said yesterday she didn't want the property publicly identified, but it was a small block of less than three hectares, with fewer than 20 sheep in a paddock close to a house.

One lamb was stolen at the end of last month and the more recent theft happened at the weekend, notably without the dogs on the property being disturbed. Up to five lambs had been taken in another incident, she had been told.

Four people are also appearing in Napier District Court next week charged with stealing a lamb.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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