POLICE are hunting thieves who stole three pet sheep in a nighttime raid.

Distraught owner Jean Ayers is offering a reward for their safe return.

The seven-year old grey-faced Dartmoor called Willow was the first sheep Mrs Ayers kept and she was taken with her ewe lamb Hazel, born last spring.

The third sheep stolen was Teeny-Weeny, a little brown Shetland ewe born in April.

Mrs Ayers said the rustlers backed up their 4 x 4 vehicle to the padlocked field gate in Shipton Gorge and man-handled the sheep over – leaving tell-tale traces of fleece.

She thinks they tried to corral the flock in a part of the field not visible from the village and carried the ones they could catch across the pasture and over to the gate.

She said: “They probably took Willow and the others because they were so tame and easy to catch.

“They are rare breed sheep and they would have had a home here for life.

“I expect they are long gone now or hanging on a hook somewhere.”

Mrs Ayers has contacted abattoirs and markets to ask staff to look out for the distinctive shaggy fleeced sheep.

She said: “Willow wasn’t worth anything commercially but is of huge sentimental value to me.

“One of the markets said people just chop the tags out and put new tags in and the sheep are put through.

“I am just so angry. At first we thought they’d got out and spent two hours searching before we realised they’d been taken.”

Bridport Police Inspector Mike Darby said: “We have seen these type of crimes elsewhere in Dorset recently, however, in the Bridport area this has remained quite rare in the last 12 months.

“However clearly people are looking to steal livestock and we recommend the community contact us should they see anything they suspicious.”

Anybody with information should contact Bridport Police on 101 and ask for PC John Poe.