By Jeanette Maxwell*
What gives people the right to come onto your farm and just help themselves to animals you’ve busted a gut to raise?
It is bad enough to lose stock but absolutely sickening to come across bloody entrails and body parts of an animal butchered in a paddock.
Rustling is a nationwide issue but we either don’t report it to the Police in the mistaken belief they won’t care - I promise you they do - or when a rustler is nicked, the Courts dish out penalties so weak-kneed, they make a wet bus ticket look like granite.
Take Tony Harris, a 21-year old Southlander, who killed a couple of sheep with an accomplice and was caught red-handed.
Instead of fessing up he played the sob story by saying he was broke and hungry and needed to eat.
I have one or two serious issues with that excuse.
For starters, the Southland economy is in good heart with plenty of jobs so there is no need to be broke.
But even if they are broke, how on earth can they afford a car?
If they are hungry then presumably they cannot afford electricity so that means cooking the sheep over an open fire and eating it in one sitting.
They must have big appetites but I was livid this caveman sob story worked.
Tony Harris received and please get ready for it, 80 hours' community work, an order to pay $116.03 in reparations and a driving disqualification for three months.
Given the sheep slaughter has no penalties related to driving the overall penalty is a joke.
Where is the deterrence to others?
Where I must ask is justice for the farmer?
A sheep is not a free French rack on four legs but valuable genetics to breed from.
This is not just about an empty tummy, where is a mention of the all-important Animal Welfare Act?
I don’t imagine for a second this individual was equipped to do the deed humanely.
Somehow the stress and abuse these animals must have gone through doesn’t rate much of a mention and it makes my blood boil.
While the Police are doing an awesome job, it must be soul destroying to see the many hours they have put into getting a result, reduced to a limp wristed tap on the knuckles. The Police know when they crack a rustling case, big or small, it will often lead to other crimes.
Hopefully, a major Canterbury rustling ring broken by Police will see a much stiffer punishment if the offenders are found guilty. You can but hope and while it may be at the opposite scale involving $150,000 worth of sheep, but really, it is the same crime.
I do not know how the alleged perpetrators can live with themselves because the scale means effectively they’re one of us.
We are aware of a similar ring, thought to be operating on the North Island’s East Coast. Again, Police and farmers are onto it but stock theft is not a problem in decline. It very much feels like a growing problem.
Let’s face it, why on earth would you burgle a house when, for not much more than a ‘pub special,’ you can get something new with a warranty. Why risk a stolen phone when that phone can be tracked. Criminals have probably deduced that rustling offers a good reward with few penalties.
So why don’t we take a leaf from how fishery poachers are treated and get similar teeth enacted?
You see the Fisheries Act 1996 has fines of up to $250,000 and the forfeiture of any property used to commit an offence.
With an organised gang that could not just mean a truck and trailer plus working dogs, it could also mean the land stock are held on. For black market abattoirs, it could mean building, equipment and vehicles, or in the case of Southland’s Tony Harris, the car that was used.
We need to get real because stock rustling is hurting sheep farmers badly.
They are undeserving of such greedy, brutal crimes that don’t just hurt them in the pocket and but in the heart.
Let’s draw a line in the sand by stiffening the law to finally deter small time opportunists and the organised criminals alike.
If you have information regarding stock theft or any other crime that you wish to report anonymously, please call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. You can report stock theft online by Googling “Stop Stock Theft” too.
Jeanette Maxwell is Federated Farmers Meat & Fibre chairperson.