Two farmers have been found guilty of stealing more than 100 sheep in a series of thefts which spanned three years.
Phillip and Charles Raine, from Bowes, County Durham, were convicted of conspiring to use criminal property following a trial at Teesside Crown Court.
The case hit the national headlines when police held a sheep ‘identity parade’ to reunite the stolen ewes with their owners from County Durham, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.
Jurors heard the sheep were taken from the farms between 2010 and 2013.
It is the first time proceeds of crime legislation has been used in a sheep rustling case.
Out of 151 sheep seized, 116 were reunited with their owners and the remainder were returned to the Raines.
The court heard the thieves had ‘over burnt’ identification markings into the animals’ horns. Others had been sanded away.
Police also found a jar containing the removed ear tags of stolen sheep at Phillip Raine’s Hazel Gill farm.
Raine 46, his partner Shirley Straughan, 41, and Raine’s 66-year-old uncle, Charles – known as Neville – all denied conspiring to use criminal property, namely sheep, knowing them to be stolen.
Ms Straughan was cleared of the charge.
Speaking afterwards to the Northern Echo, Detective Inspector Paul Phillips, of Durham police, revealed many more sheep could have been stolen, as police enquiries only went back to 2010.
Stolen sheep were discovered at the homes of all three defendants including a farm owned by Ms Straughan at High Wales, Hamsterley, County Durham, although she lives at Hazel Gill, near Bowes.
The two men will be sentenced in January. They were released on bail but were told they could face a custodial sentence.