Several piglets were crushed to death by their mother following a series of break-ins targeting a farm run by The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army’s Hadleigh Farm site, in Hadleigh Country Park in Benfleet, was burgled four times in December, with the farm losing around £60,000 in farm equipment and chippers stolen by thieves.

One particularly shocking incident caused the deaths of several piglets in a barn targeted by intruders, the stress of the incident causing the mother to crush her offspring.

Ciaran Egan, Hadleigh Estate Director, said: “Our staff and volunteers at Hadleigh Farm were shocked and upset by the break-ins, with one incident leading to the deaths of several piglets which were sleeping in a barn targeted by the intruders.

“The stress of the break-in led to their mother crushing some of them, a distressing situation for the animals and our team at Hadleigh.

“We have since repaired several fences, gates and doors and have had to upgrade our site security installing lighting and CCTV.

“By the time the rare breeds centre reopens in the spring, the repairs will be complete, and visitors can enjoy the experience as they always have,” Mr Egan said.

Hadleigh Farm is hoping to soon reopen their rare breeds centre, where they keep rare breeds of goats, sheep and pigs for visitors to the farm to see and interact with.

Essex Police are currently appealing for witnesses surrounding the spate of thefts.

One incident on December 4, at 8.45pm saw a barn broken into and a woodchipper stolen. Thieves also targeted another barn and farm equipment was stolen.

Suspects were seen escaping towards Castle Lane.

On December 17, at 10.48pm, thieves returned and entered a container but did not steal anything, only causing damage.

Thieves entered another barn and stole two woodchippers valued between £30,000 and £40,000, locking the gate as they escaped in a vehicle towards Castle Lane.

Essex Police have asked for those in the area who saw or heard anything suspicious at these times on either date to contact 101 or report online, quoting investigation 42/222969/23.