James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Gangs top farm theft suspects list

Police urge farmers to report crime more as the filching of stock, cattle drench and machinery rises.

Lee Crown and neighbouring farmers keep a close watch on suspicious movements in their district. Photo / Christine Cornege
Lee Crown and neighbouring farmers keep a close watch on suspicious movements in their district. Photo / Christine Cornege

Stock, cattle drenches, electric fences and even unused scrap metal are in the crosshairs of thieves targeting farms and rural lifestyle blocks.

While Hamilton has reported a slight decrease in crime for the 2011 year, overall crime figures in the Waikato's rural areas have increased - the upward trend caused mainly by a rise in theft from farms.

In the Benneydale area, about 40km southeast of Te Kuiti, police suspect gangs to be behind much of the property crime, with prospects and patched members of both the Mongrel Mob and Black Power in forestry and road work crews scoping potential targets while on the job.

The gangs will take anything from flat-screen TVs to fuel and stock, farm and quad bikes while electric fencing, drenches and stock feed are also sought-after items.

Senior Constable Bill Eivers of Benneydale said the gangs on-sold their ill-gotten gains on the black market for about 10 per cent of their actual worth - usually for methamphetamine.

"So that nice $2000 flat-screen television a person might have in their lounge might only be worth a few point bags of P when these guys get their hands on it.

"With the recession, you also get people stealing stock and you know it's an out-of-town person when you see a cow lying on the side of the road that's had its legs lopped off with a chainsaw."

Tapuwae Dairy Farms boss Glenn Dawson, whose station is 15km out of Benneydale, said calf milk was another item on the wanted list.

He knew of incidents where burglars would listen for milk tankers at night, waiting for them to leave before cleaning out calf milk from an unsuspecting farmer's vats.

"You just need to pick up the paper and you'll see there's always people looking for calf milk; it's big money."

But scrap metal was also a sought-after commodity and some thieves were going to great lengths, and distances, to get it.

Mr Dawson has come across scrap metal scalpers from as far away as Auckland looking through deserted dairy sheds for their stainless steel, electrical wiring and other materials - often without permission.

"They'll just come on to the farm and help themselves. They ask, 'Do you mind if I look around?' and I tell them, 'Yes mate, I do bloody mind'."

Although farmers spoken to said it was almost impossible to monitor every area of their farms, most are taking steps to ensure their security, including joining neighbourhood watch-type groups, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity and simple things such as locking up equipment and removing keys from farm vehicles when they're not being used.

Lee Crown is the manager of Wharekiri Station, one of several farms run by the Tiroa E Trust on the eastern outskirts of Benneydale.

Wharekiri Station has 9km of road frontage and dozens of gates but changes to its on-farm accounting systems and simple locks and keys have helped minimise cattle losses to 2.5 per cent and about 6.5 per cent for sheep.

The station has dozens of different people, from fertiliser, silage and hay contractors to builders and plumbers, visiting on any given day but it keeps a record through its managers of all its dealings.

"We also keep the gates locked, all the time," said Mr Crown.

"We also do simple things like taking keys out of bikes, locking all the fuel up and monitoring how it's being used. It seems to be working well now."

In the eastern Waikato area 500 more offences were recorded and the western areas had an increase of 300 offences, but Mr Eivers said these crimes might actually be higher.

He said most farming contractors working in the area were reporting thefts to their home police stations - outside of the region - while local farmers often did not bother police about thefts, believing they had more important things to worry about.

"A lot have that kind of mentality that they don't want to bother the police and think they can sort out their problems themselves," says Mr Eivers.

"But we're asking that they do."

Farm manager jumps on suspicious behaviour

Farm station manager Lee Crown once saw a suspicious vehicle parked outside a property he manages, and he took action.

"Basically I decommissioned his vehicle. I just took off the distributor cap and went back home and waited for them to come around," he said. "They can't drive so then they have to walk down to my house, I see who it is and I will ask them, 'What are you doing here?' They get very annoyed when they have to walk 5km."

Mr Crown, who manages the Wharekiri Station on the outskirts of Benneydale, says his farms have few issues because of systems that monitor fuel usage and security. It helps that most of his employees are whanau members.

He is among a number of farmers in the King Country who have formed their own neighbourhood watch group in co-operation with local police.

The group email one another to warn of suspicious behaviour. They also call one another when matters are urgent, and have been known to send tractors on to roads to block people driving off.

Mr Crown said thieves were after "pretty much all sorts of things".

"The price of food these days is so high you go into a supermarket and the price of a small roast is about $30 to $45.

"Then there's the drenches, scrap metal, tractors and motorbikes - people are after anything to make a buck."

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Thursday Manukau
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- NZ Herald

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