Police are trying to trace the owner of a lorry abandoned at the scene of a failed cattle rustling attempt in the Ballygawley area last week.
The would-be thieves fled across fields after a local farmer and his neighbours blocked the cattle lorry in a laneway in the Dergenagh Road area last Monday night (January 6).
The incident has been described as the first major blow in what to date has been a one-sided battle between farmers and cattle thieves.
It comes as the PSNI confirmed that 116 cattle were stolen in the South Tyrone area between June and December 2013.
The figure was released to local Sinn Féin MLA Bronwyn McGahan and brings to just under 300, the cattle that have been reported stolen in the South Tyrone area since the start of 2012.
In releasing the information to Ms McGahan, the PSNI said there had been no arrests or convictions in connection with any of the thefts.
However Ballygawley DUP councillor Sammy Brush said while it was unfortunate that the culprits in the latest incident got away, the recovery of the lorry represents the first major upset to the cattle rustlers in over two years.
“This may well slow the thing down a bit. Now they can see how farmers were able to gather up so quickly,” he said.
Police were alerted last Monday night at around 10.45pm when the owners of the beef cattle herd discovered the theft in progress on the Dergenagh Road between Ballygawley and Killeeshil.
The gang were understood to be in the process of organising the herd before loading them into the waiting lorry, which was waiting with its engine running, when the owners arrived.
The local farmer, with the help of his neighbours, was able to block the lorry in a laneway. The lorry, which was registered in the south of Ireland, bore false English number plates, and has a distinctive home-made blue tarpaulin roof.
The PSNI are now appealing for anyone with information to contact them in Clogher after a search of the surrounding area with a police dog failed to track the culprits.
Police have said they would like to hear from anyone who has information about the owner, driver or movements of the vehicle.
Cllr Brush, who knows the family, said he is hopeful that the lorry will yield a significant breakthrough in the case.
“It has been going on so long and the farmers are really in a serious state trying to look after animals and machinery as well,” he said.
“I would hope that this would perhaps bring this to an end, but I would like to someone caught and brought to justice.”