Got Ewe! Sheep rustlers convicted after failing to pull wool over jury's eyes
Two members of the same farming family found with more than 100 stolen sheep were facing jail after police reunited the ewes with their rightful owners using identity parades.
A senior detective branded Charles Raine, 66, and his nephew Phillip, 46, "parasites" who fed off other hill farmers' stock.
A total of 16 farmers from both sides of the Pennines were able to identify 116 sheep as belonging to them, despite usual markers being removed.
Charles Raine, who is known as Neville, and his nephew were convicted of conspiracy to use criminal property by a jury at Teesside Crown Court.
Phillip's partner Shirley Straughan, 41, was cleared of the charge. She wept as she was released from the dock.
Judge Tony Briggs adjourned the case to allow pre-sentence reports to be prepared.
The Raines will be sentenced in the New Year and they were granted bail in the mean time.
He warned them: "All sentencing options including custody remain open."
Outside court, Detective Inspector Paul Phillips said: "There are 16 victims in this case, they have been absolutely dignified, patient and a credit to their profession.
"They are hard-working in extremely difficult conditions. Then we have Neville and Phillip Raine, who have destroyed their own reputation, and almost been parasites, the way they have fed off other farmers around them."
Neville and Phillip Raine operated two farms in the Bowes area of County Durham, close to the A66.
Sam Faulks, prosecuting, had told the jury that the family members agreed to use stolen sheep, many of which had their means of identification removed.
That included horn brands, ear tags and the markings farmers paint on to their animals' wool.
The animals had gone missing between 2010 and 2013. "It is inconceivable so many ear tags and horn burns were removed.
"This was deliberate, this was organised, this was orchestrated," Mr Faulks told the jury in his opening remarks.
The judge thanked the jury for their hard work and patience during the four-week trial, saying: "This has been a somewhat unusual case."
Victims came from Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Durham and the identity parade or viewing day was held at a mart in Kirkby Stephen, police said.