Livestock farmers in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape, have reacted with outrage at the release of members of a stock theft syndicate operating in the region without them ever going to court. Their release followed a state prosecutor’s decision that there was insufficient evidence to convict the criminals, despite the thieves being caught red-handed.
According to Captain Gary Durant of the Uitenhage Stock Theft Unit, the three suspects had allegedly been part of a stock theft syndicate operating in the Uitenhage area, and were allegedly responsible for stealing over 200 sheep in a six-week period from farms along the Uitenhage-Jansenville road. “It appears that this syndicate would slaughter between 13 and 36 stolen sheep in the fields where the flocks were, transport the carcasses to Motherwell near Port Elizabeth, and sell them there for R300 apiece,” Durant said. “police and local farming community were determined to put and end to this crime spree, and so set up a month-long monitoring operation to catch the thieves.”
One of the farm labourers involved in the operation had spotted a suspicious vehicle on a farm and alerted the police and local farmers. When the police arrived the suspects were still busy slaughtering the sheep but fled once they saw the police.
Police, farmers, farmworkers, dog units and a police helicopter spent nine hours tracking down the suspects who were found in possession of a knife and pliers, with blood smears on their clothes and hands. footprints matched those found at the scene of the crime. Despite the evidence, the prosecutor released the suspects, arousing anger in the farming community who had lost thousands of rand to the thieves, in addition to taxpayers’ money spent on solving the case. “prosecutor’s actions have caused the morale of the police, farmers and their farmworkers to drop drastically,” said Agri Eastern Cape’s president Kerneels Pietersen. “All these people put in very hard work to catch these thieves.
The farming community really wants to work with the police in reducing crime levels in our area, but incidents like this create a bad impression of the justice system.” Durant said an investigation into the state prosecutor’s actions would be necessary. The stock theft unit took the dossier to the district prosecutor who issued an immediate warrant for the suspects’ re-arrest. One was caught and offered to turn state witness. Durant said the arrests of another two suspects in this case were imminent. T he stock theft unit arrested 22 suspects in September alone. Durant said the positive working relationship with the police and farming community helped in this regard. – Lloyd Phillips