GANGS of livestock thieves and rustlers could be behind the thefts of hundreds of sheep and cattle across the New England over the past four months.
Rural crime investigators tackled the region’s rising cases of livestock theft and other types of rural crime at a two-day conference that began yesterday.
They were told livestock theft accounts for 39 per cent of all rural theft reported across the state, and many cases were attributed to organised criminals operating in rural and remote areas.
It comes after an increase of cattle and sheep theft from New England properties since June, which police admit are often hard to solve.
In the Hunter town of Tocal, about 33 of the state’s specially-trained rural crime investigators, including several from the Oxley, Barwon and New England Local Area Commands, met to share tips on reducing crimes specific to their regions.
While stock theft was high on day one’s agenda, investigators also dealt with trespassing and illegal shooting, as well as the theft of equipment, produce and fuel.
Stolen livestock has been a particular concern for the New England rural crime unit investigators while fuel and firearm theft seem to be frequent matters for Barwon and Oxley police.
Since June, New England rural crime investigators have reported the theft of at least 25 head of cattle and nearly 250 sheep from Armidale, Guyra and Tenterfield properties to the media.
Police expect the incidences of stock theft to continue rising now the drought has broken and sheep and cattle markets become more buoyant.
Western Region Commander Assistant Commissioner Geoff McKechnie, who is convening the conference, says while the seasons remain good there’s a potential for thieves to be attracted to, and be prepared to take the risk, to steal stock.
“We have noted a direct correlation between higher livestock prices and increases in stock theft,” he said.
In 2011 alone, organised gangs of rustlers were thought to have cost NSW nearly 30,000 sheep and 2000 cattle - about a $3.9 million loss to their owners in total.
Assistant Commissioner McKechnie said gang members partaking in the crimes were often related and active for years.
“Certainly there are groups of organised thieves that operate in rural and remote areas,” he said.
Crime statistics released in April revealed a 27 per cent jump in stock theft across the state last year, with 693 incidents reported.
“Readiness for this will be a key discussion point at this conference,” Assistant Commissioner McKechnie said.