Taking stock: rural theft on the rise

James Nason, 04/05/2011

HIGH fuel and livestock prices are keeping Australia’s rural crime investigators on their toes.

In Queensland, the head of the State’s police stock squad has reported a marked increase in rural fuel thefts in the first four months of 2011.

Fuel prices are currently sitting at a 30 month high, with regional prices now averaging 145.6c/litre across the country, according the Australian Institute of Petroleum.

“Fuel theft has definitely increased, and it is happening right across the state,” Detective Inspector Ian Robertson, head of Queensland’s Stock and Rural Crime Investigation Squad, said.

“There have been quite a number in the Dirranbandi area alone, including 6000 litres on one property, which is equal to thirty 44-gallon drums.”

Det-Insp Robertson said fuel thefts happened day and night and were usually crimes of opportunism.

“It is often illegal shooters or trespassers or people that are up to no good anyway,” Det-insp Robertson said.

“They drive through people’s properties, see a tank unattended so they help themselves.

“We have had quite a few reports, and I’m sure there are a lot that have not been reported – people often don’t even realise until well after the event that they have had fuel stolen.”

Det-Insp Robertson said reports of cattle thefts were holding steady, with SARCIS receiving 37 separate reports of cattle thefts so far this year. All instances related to numbers of between one and 200 head.

In NSW, senior constable Phil McCloskey of the NSW Rural Crimes Unit said sheep thefts were keeping southern rural investigators busy.

“I’ve been doing this job for a long time and this year we are seeing a lot of stock thefts over a wide area.

“We have seen double the number of sheep thefts, but not so much in cattle.

“The money is there in cattle down this way as well, but the reported loss of cattle is pretty steady.”

Sen-const McCloskey said the high market value of both sheepmeat and wool, and the comparative ease of handling sheep compared to cattle, were the likely drivers behind the increase rate of sheep thefts this year.

“More people can handle sheep than can handle cattle, and they can use a ute or a trailer whereas with cattle they need yards and it is obviously a bit more challenging if they don’t have the right equipment.”

Victoria is also on track to have its first dedicated stock squad re-operating after an 11 year hiatus.

Victoria had a police stock squad until it was disbanded by the then Bracks Labor Government in 2000.

The coalition under leader and now premier Ted Ballieu had pledged to re-establish a dedicated rural crime unit prior to the recent State Election.

Victorian police minister Peter Ryan has indicated that moves to establish the stock squad are now underway. With a spate of livestock thefts being reported in Victoria in 2011, the State’s livestock industry is asking when the campaign promise will be delivered.

Meanwhile, police investigators say the four-year-old National Livestock Identification System is providing some use in helping to address stock loss issues.

Queensland SARCIS chief Det-Insp Ian Robertson said the NLIS did not present a significant deterrent to stock thieves, because they could cut out original tags and replacements in.

“But where it has helped is where cattle have accidently been picked up by a neighbour and have been sent to works, the owner has been notified by the database, the mistake has been uncovered, and the owner of the stock has been able to be compensated, and that happens reasonably regularly.

“It has been a big help with that.”



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