Dales farmer cleared of theft in sheep rustling trial

tis  Knabbs Ridge wind turbines.  (140129M1g)
tis Knabbs Ridge wind turbines. (140129M1g)

A prominent Dales farmer and former judge at the Great Yorkshire Show has been cleared of sheep rustling after a criminal trial.

Pensioner Barrie Iveson Liddle, of Old Church Lane in Pateley Bridge, appeared before magistrates in Harrogate on Tuesday charged with stealing 10 mule ewes in October last year.

The prosecutor’s case laid bare an elaborate scheme accusing Liddle of stealing the sheep from one farmer, hiding them in a second farmer’s fields, in order to give them to a third.

But Liddle, taking the stand to claim it was a conspiracy against him, insisted he had been “helping” the sheep into a neighbour’s field, and had cut their ID tags in an attempt to find the owner.

“It’s obvious I wasn’t attempting to steal them,” said the 73-year-old, a former director of the Nidderdale Agricultural Society who kept sheep at Fellisclife before retiring in 2010. “I could get into any field in England and take any sheep I wanted and nobody could catch me.”

Prosecutors argued that Liddle had lost seven sheep he was supposed to be looking after for a friend called Neil Challiss. To try and make it up to this friend, and secure rent money he was owed, they said, he stole some more.

Prosecutors said Liddle had hidden these stolen sheep in a farmer’s field off Pennypot Lane, before approaching the landowner to ask for them back.

But the farmer became suspicious after discovering a makeshift pen near a derelict barn on his land, along with marked wool clippings and sheep ID tags.

Liddle denied that any sheep were missing in the first place, saying it was all a “set up” and accusing Mr Challiss of making it up.

“He obviously saw an opportunity to escape from paying the rent,” said Liddle. “There were no missing sheep.”

He said, when he put some sheep in a farmer’s fields, he had only been trying to help after finding them loose on the road.

“I often find sheep in the road and take them to a safe place,” he said. “The consequences, of someone coming down there at speed and crashing into them, would be horrendous.

“It’s the creed of the sheep farmer - if you see sheep that are a danger, you make sure they are off the road. But I will leave them in future, if this is what happens.”

Liddle was cleared of stealing sheep by magistrates in Harrogate, but convicted of unlawfully removing the identifying tags and fined a total of £635.