Friday 30 September 2016

Revenue and Gardai close in on cattle rustling gang

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

Assistant Garda Commissioner Derek Byrne, Tim Dalton, Chairman Crimestoppers and IFA President Eddie Downey pictured at the launch of the joint campaign to combat livestock theft. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke
Assistant Garda Commissioner Derek Byrne, Tim Dalton, Chairman Crimestoppers and IFA President Eddie Downey pictured at the launch of the joint campaign to combat livestock theft. Photo: Finbarr O'Rourke

Gardai have identified the key members of a cattle rustling gang believed to be responsible for the majority of livestock thefts in the Border region over the past three years.

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The highly organised gang of criminals is known to be operating on both sides of the Border and has links to legitimate businesses to help offload their stolen haul.

The alleged ringleader of the rustling outfit is a farmer with several properties north and south and he is the prime target for several agencies involved in tracking down the thieves and their associates.

Department of Agriculture officials have already hit the rustling boss financially and are understood to have stopped the payment of subsidies to him as a result of inquiries into suspected irregularities.

The alleged rustler has key associates based in counties Monaghan and Donegal while some of the gang are also based in Tyrone.

The cross-border dimension to their activities led to the setting up of a special investigation task force that includes the Garda, PSNI, Revenue and Customs here and their counterparts in Northern Ireland, as well as the Departments of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority in both jurisdictions.

Revenue officials are currently carrying out an audit of the prime suspect's financial affairs while officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau are keeping a close watch on developments in those inquiries.

Task force inquiries have stretched from counties Cavan and Monaghan to Donegal and included Roscommon and Longford while also extending northwards to Tyrone and Armagh.

The gang is believed to be connected to a legitimate meat supplier to help dispose of the animals and to a licensed haulier to organise transportation after the thefts.

Abbatoirs

Investigators have also uncovered the use of illegal abattoirs and butchering operations.

One officer told the Farming Independent: "This gang has a particularly streamlined operation and can steal cattle and sheep in one area at night and then dispose of the animals in another district by lunchtime the following day.

"There is also evidence that the stolen animals are being moved between farms in the two jurisdictions and inquiries are ongoing into the use of stolen tags and false documentation," he added.

In one raid, gardai and Department officials found 35 cattle with illegal tags while 21 animals with tag irregularities were discovered in another search.

Around 150 cattle and 120 sheep have been rustled in the Cavan-Monaghan area in the last two years.

Other counties near the Border have also been hit badly but the highest figures for rustling have emerged on the northern side for the past five years.

Gardai say that some of those behind the rustling are also involved in cross-Border smuggling and fuel laundering, while a small group of them have been identified as key players in the theft of beer kegs from pubs and their subsequent sale for smelting.

Meanwhile, officers are working closely with groups like the Irish Farmers Association and Muintir na Tire to encourage farmers maintain a high level of vigilance in their areas and promote the development of schemes such as text alert, which currently involves more than 120,000 subscribers with an estimated 200,000 text messages being sent each month.

Crimestoppers has also called on anyone with information to contact its confidential telephone line, 1800 250025. Tip-offs can be supplied anonymously to the service.

Intelligence about the rustling gangs is also being fed into the national intelligence and analysis-led operation, known as Fiacla.

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