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Police in Kent, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Staffordshire have told H&H they have received no confirmed reports of horses being stolen in the area.

In the past few days, texts and emails have been circulating regarding a number thefts around the UK — and internet forums, including Horse & Hound’s are a-buzz with talk.

But during the course of enquiries today, H&H can confirm that police say no horses have been reported stolen recently.

This includes: three from Lower Rainham, Kent, a Shetland from West Houghton, a cob from Bury, a cob from Abram, five cobs from Cannock, a whole yard of horses in St Helen’s, nine horses from Cannock and five from Lichfield.

We are currently investigating further reports received today of 14 horses missing in Nottinghamshire, one in Wigan, and several near the M50 in South Gloucestershire.

But, we are receiving police confirmed reports of sightings of the suspicious men — this morning in Midhurst and Fontwell in West Sussex.

Police are advising people not to worry unduly, but to remain vigilant. They are telling H&H that patrols in rural areas — and where men have been seen photographing horses — have been stepped up.

A spokesman from Kent Police said: “We do have a number of intelligence reports about suspicious vehicles, and we are looking into it, but no horses have been taken that we are aware of.

“But that doesn’t mean horses haven’t been stolen — it’s just that it hasn’t been reported.”

She said the information was obviously being circulated in good faith, and that people need to remain vigilant.

A spokesman from Greater Manchester Police told H&H that West Houghton police station had been visited by a number of concerned horse owners, worried about a large-scale theft operation.

“They’re staying up all night to look after their horses,” she said, “but these appear to be rumours which are getting people more and more concerned.

“As far as we’re aware, nothing has been stolen and there are no concrete details on what is supposed to have been taken and when — the theft information is all quite general.”

She added: “There’s nothing much we can tell people other to remain vigilant and to reassure them that we are upping patrols.”

There have been unconfirmed suggestions that this activity is in some way linked to Appleby Horse Fair, which starts on Monday.