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Thirty-six horses seized by police in a raid in County Durham last Thursday, 26 February, were stolen over the weekend.

County Durham police rounded up around 40 horses and 20 sheep in “Operation Beausaddle” on Thursday 26 February after residents complained that they could cause a major road accident.

More than 50 officers descended on a site near Bishop Auckland, where the animals were being kept illegally, and moved them to a secret location.

But on Saturday, 36 of those horses were stolen in a midnight raid.

A police spokesman told H&H: “They were taken in the dead of the night, across three fields and a ditch.”

It is believed the location had been compromised by a traffic build-up behind the fleet of lorries used to move the horses last week.

The police spokesman confirmed that 10 of the horses have been recovered since the weekend, but that 26 were still missing.

“Unfortunately one of the horses was injured and broke its leg during the raid, and had to be put down,” added the spokesman.

A 21-year-old man from Darlington, a 59-year-old man from Spennymoor, and a 19-year-old man and 52-year-old man from Bishop Auckland, have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and bailed further pending enquiries.

The 21-year-old was also bailed on suspicion of an unconnected wounding charge.