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Police and victims of horse-related crime are becoming increasingly frustrated as suspected tack thieves, some caught effectively red-handed, continue to escape justice. Both are calling for action amid an escalating wave of increasingly blatant break-ins.

Just two weeks ago, in a corner of Northamptonshire just 10 miles square, thieves hit nine yards, making off with tack and equipment worth tens of thousands of pounds. One yard was burgled for the second time in a fortnight, with a replacement quad and postcoded tack stolen, and one riding school near Towcester lost 45 saddles.

While a six-month investigation in Surrey has resulted in charges against two suspects, elsewhere those arrested are routinely released without charge due to lack of evidence or difficulty making it stick.

A suspect from Essex walked free last month after claiming stolen tack in her possession came from a car boot sale, while in the Midlands, a man who advertised stolen saddles on an internet auction site continues to trade.

One victim of theft from Surrey, who led police to suspects after spotting her saddle advertised on the internet, said: “The whole thing makes me furious. It took great persistence to get the police interested, but even when they found stolen tack they couldn’t charge anyone because it was too difficult to prove handling stolen goods.”

But according to police the greatest barrier to catching culprits is the lack of marking on most tack. One force burned saddles they had seized because nobody could identify them.
In a separate case, port officials allowed a lorryload of 300 suspect second-hand but wholly unmarked saddles through to Ireland because they could not prove the driver did not own them.

DI David Collings from Hampshire Police cannot recall an equine theft-related prosecution in his area in the past year, but said: “There is more horse-related theft than ever, from horses to tack to trailers. However, as always, the burden of proof is heavy, which is why we push for crime prevention.”

Aside from identifying property, a major problem is circulation of information, which happens only piecemeal. No central list of stolen tack exists, and stolen horse and trailer registers are not all-encompassing.

In another worrying development, stolen horses are leaving the country without original passports, despite more rigorous port checks. Thieves stole two coloured horses from a Northamptonshire breeder in July, and the animals turned up in Holland, indicating that forgeries, or other horses’ passports, are accompanying stolen horses. Regular travellers to Europe and Ireland say port police routinely board vehicles to verify horses’ markings against documents.

How you can help the police

  • DI Collings advised: “Contact your local police station and ask about availability of tack-marking sessions.” He said tack “shows” had been held in various regions in the hope of reuniting owners with stolen goods.
  • Saddles can also be microchipped for as little as £14 by firms such as Saddle Guard, Farmkey and Chiptrac.
  • Hampshire Police are using eBay to circulate information about stolen horses. DI Collings said warning adverts carried photos of stolen horses in Hampshire, adding owners should “always photograph horses from every angle”.
  • Hertfordshire Police last week launched Operation Storm Shadow, collating intelligence to tackle cross-border crime on key targets including stables.