WA’s pastoral industry was rocked by allegations this week that two of its own were involved in cattle rustling in the State’s north as it emerged a specialised crime squad is cracking down on the illegal activity. The WA Police Rural Crime Squad was quietly formed last September to tackle theft and other crimes in the State’s $9 billion farming industry. Since then, it has launched Operation Topography, created to combat an “established criminal network” involved in the theft and sale of cattle in the Mid West, Gascoyne and Pilbara regions. It was revealed this week that the taskforce had charged Richard Bernard Arends and Rachael Elizabeth Third of Edmund Station in relation to the alleged theft and sale of 803 cattle worth about $800,000. They are scheduled to appear in the Carnarvon court on Monday. These charges are believed to be just the beginning, with police saying Operation Topography has uncovered organised criminal networks comprising individuals and companies operating in WA, including aerial and ground musterers, livestock trucking companies, truck drivers, stock agents, abattoirs and feedlots. More charges are expected to be laid within weeks. Hedland Export Depot manager Paul Brown said he believed there was “no way” two people could steal 800 cattle and said he believed there must be a syndicate operating in WA. “Cattle rustling is very different to sheep rustling where you can drive in with two dogs and a motorbike and push sheep on to a truck,” he said. “Cattle rustling from pastoral stations is a much bigger effort ... to take that number of cattle from pastoral stations requires complex logistics.” Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association president David Stoate said the industry was puzzled over how such a huge number of cattle could allegedly be stolen, but was pleased the issue had come to light. While it is not uncommon for cattle to stray onto other properties — some cattle stations span hundreds of thousands of hectares and don’t have fences — a system was in place to ensure the rightful owner is paid. “We may get the neighbours’ cattle on our property from time to time,” Mr Stoate said. “When I’m selling, some of other cattle might go on the truck with mine, but they’re identified as our neighbour’s cattle by the tag, and the payment by the agent goes back to the owner.” Measures are in place to correctly identify the owners of each animal via an electronic ear tag and an ear mark — a combination of two shaped notches taken out of the ear to match the owner’s registration certificate. Mr Stoate, who owns Anna Plains Station at Broome, said if there was a change to the earmark, this would be obvious to others in the supply chain including livestock agents, truckies and abattoirs. “Others in the supply chain have a moral obligation to speak up if they feel things don’t add up,” he said. Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MLC Rick Mazza said rural properties were an easy target from criminal networks because of the remoteness of farms and the perceived lower risk compared to urban areas. He said he hoped the RCS would be a deterrent to illegal activity. Detective Senior Sergeant Howes said since 2008 WA Police had staff at Northam and Bunbury dedicated to rural crime. But an internal review found it would be more effective to have a centralised squad of detectives dedicated to rural crime, supported by police officers based at more than 100 stations across regional WA. “A centralised squad enables a dedicated focus on rural crime, and the detectives will go wherever they’re needed,” he said. “It also has the support of the regional police, who do a lot of the heavy lifting.” Headed by Detective Sergeant Paul Matthews, the RCS differs to the “rural stock squad”, which was disbanded in 2008. It goes further than the previous taskforce by targeting crime relating to the full range of rural commodities, including grain, wool, bulk fuel or livestock. Only one member of the new RCS team hails from a farm but the others have been on a steep agriculture learning curve. Detective Senior Sergeant Howes said the team had undertaken training with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and spent a week at Muresk Institute in Northam, to become familiar with animal handling, animal movement and stock identification.