By Sarah Laverty

FARMERS have been urged to be vigilant after one of the biggest ever cases of sheep rustling in north Antrim.

More than 200 sheep were stolen from a field in the Loughgiel area between July 13-17, police have confirmed.

The theft included 75 ewes, 137 lambs and 2 rams - mostly Texel, Suffolk and Mule breeds.

Police said most of the animals are not tagged.

The theft comes just months after it was claimed by North Antrim DUP MLA Paul Frew back in February that some farmers, concerned about the number of thefts in the rural community, had set up armed patrols.

At the time police urged farmers to leave law enforcement to the police and to pass on any information to police.

Regarding the latest massive theft of sheep, North Antrim MLA, Robin Swann (Ulster Unionist), urged people with information about rural crime to get in touch with police.

He said: “It is the time of year again when the value of livestock is at its highest. We are in a very difficult economic climate and livestock is a famer’s major asset.

“It is imperative that farmers make sure their livestock are identifiable. Any unmarked animals are a very easy target.

“By the sheer number that was stolen it is clear that this was a very well-organised crime. Someone in the area is bound to have noticed something unusual. Mostly neighbours will recognise each others’ vehicles so if anyone saw anything suspicious I would encourage them to get in contact with the police.” he said.

Back in February after the ‘armed’ farmers claims emerged, PSNI Superintendent Brian Kee said: “My message would be very strongly that farmers who see suspicious activity should report it to police immediately. We are working very hard to prevent and detect these crimes.”

Police said criminals often call in to farms pretending to look for work like cutting silage or paint property and if they see an opportunity to steal anything they often return.

Police are appealing for information about the sheep theft on 08456008000 or phone Crimestoppers on 0800555111.