A flock of distressed and underfed lambs have been found dumped in Kingston, after they were snatched from a north Hampshire farm.

Thieves stole 59 two-week old lambs, which are so young they cannot be eaten or hand fed, from three sheep pens at about midnight on Saturday morning.

The majority were found by members of the public and rescued by Kingston police but three have since died after being deprived of food, water and shelter.

At lunchtime on Saturday, Kingston police found 44 of the lambs in Boundary Close, Norbiton, behind the Searchlight Youth Club in Kingston Road.

Then on Sunday evening, at about 11pm, the public reported a further 15 lambs in a garden in Wolsey Drive, north Kingston, and moved to a nearby allotment.

Kingston police said officers had to herd the lambs with their hands and carry them to a transporter van, with each animal typically weighing between 10 and 12 lbs. Fortunately one of the officers on duty on Saturday was a farmer’s daughter.

Officers then worked with Surrey County Council and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to get the lambs back to Tile Barn farm in Upton Grey, North Basingstoke.

Ron Jury, a shepherd who lives at the family-run farm, said it was likely the baby sheep would be rejected by their mothers.

Mr Jury said: “At this age they can’t be away from their mothers. We are waiting to see if their mothers will take them back, but they have got different smells on them from when they have been handled.

“If they don’t I will have to hand rear them, which is a lot of work. They are for the Easter trade so this has set them back, they look thin. It’s cruel really.”

It is believed thieves used at least one and possibly two white vans with sliding doors to transport the lambs.

PC Lee Coleshill from Hampshire Police said: “We believe the lambs were stolen for their meat and at this stage it is unclear whether they were abandoned or if they escaped from where they were being kept.

“We are working with our colleagues in the Metropolitan Police to investigate circumstances and are appealing to anyone with any information about who may be responsible to come forward and speak to us.”

If anyone has information about the theft and how the lambs came to be in Kingston they should contact PC Lee Coleshill of Hampshire Police on 0845 0454545.