Welsh force first to use cow DNA to secure criminal prosecution

Dyfed-Powys Police has become the first force in the UK to use DNA evidence from a stolen cow in a criminal court case.

Feb 5, 2020
By Tony Thompson
PC Gareth Jones

Officers used DNA from a £3,000 heifer, which had been retagged by a neighbouring farmer after escaping from a field, to prove it had been stolen.

The blood samples were compared with cows on the victim’s farm to establish a familial link and secure a conviction.

David Owens, of St Clears, pleaded guilty to theft at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (February 3).

Police Constable Gareth Jones, the lead officer in the case, said: “This has been a long and protracted inquiry, and it has taken a lot of work and patience to get to this point.

“Without the use of the heifer’s DNA we would not have been able to prove that it had been stolen by Mr Owens, and that he had tried to alter identification tags to evade prosecution.

“We are proud to be the first force in the UK to use a cow’s DNA in a criminal case and will continue to use innovative methods to get justice for victims.”

The investigation started in December 2017, when a farmer in St Clears reported the theft of one of his 300 cows, which had escaped from his field four months earlier.

Owens denied the missing animal was on his land, but the victim recognised it among the herd.

PC Jones visited the farm and was handed a cow passport, listing ear tag numbers for the cow in question and the animal Owens alleged was its mother.

He applied for a warrant to seize the stolen cow, which was separated from the herd and blood samples taken for DNA comparison.

“Under advice from the Animal Plant Health Agency, and due to regulations about moving cows, the disputed animal remained on Mr Owens’ farm,” PC Jones said. “He agreed to look after it on behalf of the police.

“It was established through DNA tests that the heifer listed on the cow passport was not related to the disputed cow.”

In March 2018, a Welsh government field officer visited the farm and seized the stolen heifer’s passport. She told Owens she would return the following week to check the tags on his herd.

Arrangements were made for further samples to be taken by a vet, which were compared with a cow on the victim’s farm.

They were proven to be siblings, and based on the DNA results, the Crown Prosecution Service authorised charges against Owens. He was summonsed to court and pleaded guilty to theft.

Dyfed-Powys Police said it was the first time DNA blood from a heifer had been used in a criminal court case.

PC Jones said: “I must thank the victim in this case for the determination shown in wanting to see justice being done. It has been a long investigation, but we hope he is satisfied with the outcome.

“What this case shows us is that where the farming community works with the police, reporting crimes and providing us with vital information, we can be successful in taking out prosecutions.

“I echo comments made by the judge, who said Mr Owens, as a farmer, would be well aware of the need for a level of trust in the rural community. In committing these offences, he has played a part in breaking down that trust, which will be difficult to build back up.”

During the criminal investigation, Owens started his own proceedings against Dyfed-Powys Police over the way blood samples were taken from the cow, as he had not been willing for this to happen. A judicial review found the force was lawful in obtaining blood samples from the animal.

Owens was fined £4,000 and ordered to pay £400 costs.

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