Three men responsible for the illegal slaughter of nearly 120 sheep in a string of distressing killings in Northamptonshire last year have been jailed.
Robert Iordan, 23, Florin Nutu, 35 and Voirel Manu, 38, were fleeing from the scene of their latest midnight butchering when they were caught by police on the A14 on October 10, 2019.
In the back of the dirty van, police found bloodied butcher knives, a motorised air pump - and the carcasses of nine sheep that had been freshly slaughtered.
The arrests brought an end to a four-month reign of terror for the farmers of Northamptonshire - who for weeks had to check on their livestock and hope they hadn't become the latest victims of the spate of killings.
At their sentencing at Northampton Crown Court today (March 27), Her Honour Judge Adrienne Lucking said: "The sheep were in each case stolen for their meat, butchered in the fields and their unwanted body parts left strewn around for their owners to find.
"On one occasion two very young children were completely traumatised finding their sheep slaughtered and butchered such that they were screaming at the sight."
At their sentencing at Northampton Crown Court today (March 27), the judge heard how Iordan and Nutu had carried out the killings over the four-month spree, and only involved Manu in the plan on the last night.
In the course of their killings, Iordan, Nutu and Manu illegally butchered 118 sheep for their meat.
In each incident, the operation was the same. The thieves would target a farm before removing the gate and corralling the likely-terrified livestock.
They then inhumanely slaughtered them using knives, before they were skinned and butchered.
It was left to the farmers in the morning to find what happened to their stock in the night. Fleeces and sheep heads were lefts draped over gates and blood was strewn across every scene.
To add insult to injury, the farmers - who each lost thousands of pounds in each offence - had to also pay out of pocket to have the remains of their hand-reared livestock responsibly cleared away.
In one case, nine butchered sheep were not even being reared for meat, and were simply the beloved pets of their owner.
Judge Lucking said: "They were heartbroken as farmers who treat their livestock with loving care."
In total, 118 sheep were worth at least £13,000 at market - but the court heard how the true value was likely much more as breeding stock, as well as for the cost of replacing them.
Additionally, in all cases, the stolen meat was butchered in unsanitary conditions - and the sheep from two incidents had been treated with medicine making them unfit for human consumption.
It took the combined effort of dedicated multi-force police operation - Operation Stock - to catch the men.
The court heard how the three men got involved in the conspiracy out of "desperation" for money. Who they were supplying is still under investigation. All three men lived at the same address in Birmingham.
The three men later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal.
Judge Lucking sentenced Iordan and Nutu to four years and four months in prison each. Manu was handed a sentence of two years and 11 months.
In a statement read out in court, the National Farmers Union said: "The successive strain of events over several months put an immeasurable amount of stress on farmers and their families and is something we hope never to see again."