A QUEENSLAND cattle farmer who has been living in Warwick is behind bars and must pay a $237,000 fine after "building a small cattle empire" mostly through stolen stock.
Ashley Armstrong Thomson, 49, stole more than $134,000 worth of cattle from five neighbours in the Cunnamulla area, near the NSW border.
He would re-brand the cattle with his RY4 symbol and often removed National Livestock Identification System ear tags indicating where they belonged.
Thomson, who has been living in Warwick after the courts banned him from attending his Cunnamulla properties, owned and lived on properties Kywong and Gilnockie.
Over 11 years, Thomson stole 59 cattle and bred 168 of their progeny, resulting in five cattle generations in some cases.
By the time some of the stolen stock was identified, Thomson had already sold at least 17 through the Dalby Saleyards to different feedlots for $12,563.
Having been bought legitimately, those cattle could not be returned to the neighbours.
Charleville District Court heard police seized many of the stolen cattle but Thomson has consented to returning another 81 cattle to the victims.
Crown prosecutor Lily Brisick said the length of the offending had watered down strong bloodlines the neighbouring farmers had worked hard to establish.
One neighbour's stud Braford cow produced a beast worth $7500 but, when bred with Thomson's stock, produced an animal worth just $436, Ms Brisick said as an example.
"In country as vast as this, where fences just cannot be checked daily, graziers rely on their neighbours to return straying stock," she said.
"Trust is what binds the community.
"Trust is even more (important) in times of drought when cattle must move further to find feed and times of flood when fences are most likely to be damaged.
"(Thomson's) conduct has spanned both drought and flood."
Police uncovered the thefts through cattle seizures and DNA tests over three years, costing police about $72,000 and victims about $90,000.
Thomson pleaded guilty after two days of a trial, which required witnesses to be flown in from NSW.
He was sentenced to two years and three months jail, suspended after he has served nine months.
The balance of the sentence will hang over his head for five years.
The sheer size of the properties around Cunnamulla, near the NSW border, would astound many.
Floods and droughts can strike them with equally catastrophic proportions.
It took years for some farmers to tell police their cattle numbers were falling dramatically.
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