Introduction and Facts
Charles Raine, and his nephew Phillip Raine, were farmers in Country Durham. Between 2010 and 2013 over 100 sheep went missing, presumed stolen, from farms across the north of England.
For reasons unknown, suspicion fell on the Raines. With the sheep’s markers removed, police were reduced to conducting identity parades (seriously) where the farmers who had lost their sheep picked out their animals. Clearly there was more evidence than that, but it is the ovine line up that sticks in the mind.
There was a trial at which the two Raines were convicted. On 5th January 2016 they were both sentenced to 3 years in prison.
What was the offence?
They were charged with ‘conspiracy to use criminal property’. This is a ‘money laundering’ offence under s329 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, even though it is effectively Handling Stolen Goods.
Here the allegation was that they had (and farmed) property that they knew was the proceeds of crime; namely the stolen sheep. The total value of the sheep found was “just under £25,000“.
For that reason, they were handlers of the stolen sheep rather than the rustlers themselves.
Time it was that sheep stealing could bring you an encounter with the hangman. Ask the inaptly, but slightly comically, named Joseph Pig. Mr Pig was sentenced to death on 15th January 1742 for relieving a Mr Isaac Singer of two of his animals only six days previously (things moved rather more quickly in those days – nowadays the Police would still be on hold to the CPS for charging advice).
This was the state of play until the Punishment of Death, etc Act 1832. By that point however, death was out of fashion. Very few were executed (only one unfortunate soul out of the 162 convicted of sheep stealing in 1832 actually paid the ultimate price).
Nowadays, of course, our penalties are a bit less harsh -the maximum is 14 years in prison. Not to be sniffed at of course, but better than the noose.
There are guidelines for Handling Stolen Goods that will be in force from 1st February 2016. The Judge may have had one eye on that, but should in theory be guided solely by the Money Laundering Guidelines (see page 36).
This case would be Category 5 because of the value of the sheep, and probably Harm A because of the sophisticated nature of the operation. This gives a starting point of 3 years (although that is based on a starting point of £50,000), which is what they got.
I say ‘in theory’ as this really is a case of Handling. Is three years too much? On the face of it, this seems a very high sentence for this offence. We don’t know anything about their backgrounds but, although we would have expected a prison sentence, we would thought something in the range of 18 months to 2 years would have been more than sufficient.
Will there be an appeal? Probably. Will it succeed? Who knows. The Judge heard a trial that lasted a month or more, so there is clearly a lot more to it than can be gleaned from a BBC news report. For that reason, although the sentence does seem too long, we would not be surprised if an appeal does not get very far.