Queensland courts have convicted two men over what police say was one of the state’s biggest cattle theft cases in recent decades.
Former owner of Woodstock Station, Dezso Istvan Sipos, 58, from Capalaba, was sentenced in the Townsville Magistrates Court on Monday to two years’ jail for stealing 280 head of cattle.
- Convictions have been secured over the theft of 944 heifer cattle
- The crimes took place over a two-year period in remote north-west Queensland
- Police have praised a young ringer, then 16, for coming forward with crucial evidence
The conviction follows the sentencing in Cairns District Court last year of Atherton man Brenton Butler, 36, who will spend three years and nine months behind bars for the theft of 664 head.
Investigations by the Cloncurry-based Major and Organised Crime Squad Rural (MOCS), formerly known as the Stock Squad, began in 2015 after complaints were made by Strathpark Station’s owner about missing cattle.
MOCS Rural Detective Sergeant Nick Hempel said the convictions were a pleasing result after a difficult four-year investigation leading to the men’s arrest.
The unprocessed, clean-skin weaner heifers were destined to grow out to become breeding cows on Strathpark Station, managed by Butler, 130 kilometres north of Richmond.
Instead, they were trucked off the Gulf of Carpentaria property by Sipos without any identifying ear tags or brands.
“The investigation revealed the cattle went to a nearby property belonging to one of the offenders and we believe they were grown out to become breeders and that property [Woodstock] was subsequently sold,” Detective Sergeant Hempel said.
The value of the cattle on 2015 prices would be markedly lower than today’s values, but Detective Sergeant Hempel said the value of breeders over eight to 10 years in producing calves was significant.
The cattle have not been recovered by police.
Young witness praised
Detective Sergeant Hempel said the assistance of a 16-year-old ringer who had been told to load unmarked cattle in 2014 was critical to the successful conviction.
“The young ringer had helped load cattle from Strathpark on behalf of the manager [Butler] and raised the concerns those cattle shouldn’t have been loaded with his mother,” he said.
Detective Sergeant Hempel said the teenager then raised those concerns with the victim, the owner of the property.
“Without witnesses this successful prosecution and the jail terms we’re seeing would not be possible,” he said.
Police have advised any worker who suspected illegal activity by a senior manager to come forward without fear of prosecution, if they believe they had been involved unknowingly in livestock theft.
“It would be hard in a situation where your boss is asking you to do something but like this young ringer, keep it at the back of your mind and raise it with someone with a bit more experience,” Detective Sergeant Hempel said.
Huge impacts on producers
AgForce cattle board chairman Will Wilson said the sentences, while welcome, underlined a need for stronger penalties on animal theft.
“I certainly think it’s got to be seen as like for like – if you were to rob a bank of $1 million, what would the penalty be?” he said.
Amid sky-high cattle prices, Mr Wilson said fear of livestock theft was widespread in the Queensland cattle industry.
“I am hearing a lot of concern about it and thinking about how we can make our industry systems deter and prevent the theft of animals,” he said.
“Having records helps the police get convictions. I know of cases of smaller thefts that are harder to get convictions on — evidence is always the key and people need to be vigilant.”