It will be five years next month since Ian Burey found the remains of his prized Angus cow in a bloodied pile of guts, head, hide and legs behind a bush on his property near Moree.
The NSW farmer said he believes the two who killed his beast, shot it, dragged it through the dirt and used a rope to winch the carcass over a tree branch so they could butcher it.
Tristan Roy Grant and Ardee Elizabeth Burling were both convicted of "kill cattle with intent to steal" in Moree Local Court on December 1.
Magistrate Brett Shields ordered both to serve 12 months of their sentences under supervision in the community, with Grant receiving the higher penalty and also having to pay Mr Burey $1500 compensation.
But it has taken the farmer nearly five years to see justice served against the pair whose DNA was eventually traced to a can of Coca Cola and a rag left at the crime scene.
"The police asked me if I wanted to withdraw the charges because it had been four and a half years," Mr Burey said. "I said, 'No', I refused to."
"That's why we didn't drop our case; to give our farmers hope."
Mr Burey also said the cow would be worth twice as much today as the $1500 compensation he was paid after its death.
BLOOD TRAIL IN THE DIRT, 2018
On January 15, 2018, Mr Burey was renovating his house on his property, 35km east of Moree, when he heard a gunshot, but being on a farm he just thought it was a nearby farmer protecting his stock from wild animals.
The next morning, as he was retrieving two of his cattle that had escaped into a neighbour's reserve, Mr Burey noticed a puddle of blood with drag marks in the dirt leading to a bush about 100 metres away.
Hidden behind the bush and a box tree, Mr Burey was confronted with the heartbreaking sight of what remained of his prized 500kg black Angus heifer.
He said the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) tag had been ripped out of the cow's ear.
"It's not just Joe Bloggs who wants a bit of T-Bone, it's somebody who knows what they're doing."- Detective Sergeant Graeme Campbell
Mr Burey said his management tag had also been removed from the other ear of his cow and the microchip buried under the animal's skin had been cut out, which would make it more difficult to prove his ownership and take legal action.
FARMERS NEED TO REPORT CRIME
DETECTIVE Sergeant Graeme Campbell from the Rural Crime Prevention Team RCPT has urged farmers to report minor and major thefts, saying there is a dedicated squad that will investigate and follow up on the crimes.
He said the illegal practice of butchering and stealing animals for their raw meat happens so regularly on Australian farms that the criminals have even given it a name, 'taking killers'.
He said too many people are getting away with the killing and theft of animals because farmers think it would be impossible to prove.
"But this (case) highlights the fact that we can do something, we will investigate it, and we will prosecute them, put them before the courts," Det Sgt Campbell said.
"It's not just Joe Bloggs who wants a bit of T-Bone, it's somebody who knows what they're doing. They'd need certain skills and abilities to commit these types of crimes."
A LACK OF STATS
University of New England rural criminologist expert Dr Alastair Harkness said it is crucial that farmers contact police for minor or major theft of stock, tools, machinery or other crimes regardless of the evidence they have.
He said a lack of statistics has made it difficult for the state to allocate police resources and other services in rural areas where these crimes are occurring.
"Because those (in government) who hand out the money say, 'well we're looking at the statistics here and it doesn't look like you have too much of a crime problem'.
"A lot of farmers will say, 'look, I know who it is, but I have to live next door to them. We've lived next door to each other for three generations, it just costs too much trouble in the community if we get the police involved'," Dr Harkness said.
But Det Sgt Campbell said farmers can report in various ways, whether via their local police station, the police assistance line or anonymously via Crime Stoppers.
"We need to get farmers out of the old school mentality of 'she'll be right'," he said.
"Because those (in government) who hand out the money say, 'well we're looking at the statistics here and it doesn't look like you have too much of a crime problem.'- Dr Alistair Harkness, rural criminologist from the University of New England
Meanwhile, Mr Burey said he believed the cost of animal butchery and theft to the national economy could run into the "millions of dollars" or more every year.
He said the difficulty in proving there had been a theft or illegal slaughter is often in situations where foxes, wild pigs or dogs have feasted on the carcass left behind by the thieves.
"There'll be times when you're gonna see a pile of bones and the guts there and you know all the backbones are missing and all the ribcage so it's not the pigs," Mr Burey said.
"It's that someone has slaughtered and stolen your animal but you can't find any evidence."
Dr Harkness said farmers may only muster their sheep and cattle a few times a year but will notice a few missing without traces of clues such as carcasses, wool on barbed wire, or broken fences, indicating theft.
"The farmers will say 'somebody has stolen these. But where's the evidence?' If they don't have cameras set up or if somebody didn't see the theft occurring then how do they prove it?"
"And after a couple of months there might have been rain or lots of wind so any tracks would have well and truly gone.
"One of the solutions to that is to report it anyway."
Dr Harkness said setting up motion-sensor cameras at strategic entry and exit points "or where someone might be able to back up a trailer or a horse float and steal stuff" could also assist in preventing crimes and catching criminals.
Magistrate Brett Shields ordered Grant to serve his 12 months imprisonment in the community on an Intensive Corrections Order under supervision, which includes 100 hours of community service work from December 1, 2022.
He was also ordered to pay Burey $1500 compensation.
Burling was sentenced to the lesser 12-month Community Correction Order and is also subject to supervision.
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