IN a stunning development, criminal charges were yesterday dropped by police against two men accused of stealing cows from near Camperdown.
Police prosecutor Leading Senior Constable Nathan Brown withdrew the charges after Magistrate Greg McNamara ordered that 11 Friesian heifers be returned to their owner Barry Bennett.
Mark Bannam, 43, of Phillips Street, Heywood, and William Hawker, 59, of Batemans Road, Naroghid, had been charged with stealing Friesian heifers.
It is understood that police officers who initially seized the cattle did so without a search warrant, which corrupted the prosecution case and led to yesterday’s withdrawal of the charges.
Barrister Simon Gillespie-Jones, acting for Mr Hawker, admitted during discussion with the magistrate that DNA evidence was consistent with the cattle belonging to Mr Bennett.
The contested hearing due to begin yesterday had been set down to be heard over five days, with a Queensland-based DNA expert expected to give crucial evidence. In August last year the case was adjourned so the defence could conduct its own DNA tests on the cattle.
At the time, Mr Gillespie-Jones said the defence team wanted its own veterinarian to examine the cows in question. The defence wanted to take DNA samples under police supervision, photograph the cattle and carry out tests on the DNA samples.
Mr Gillespie-Jones summarised the case as involving adjoining farms, with the cattle shifting from one farm to the other, and said it involved an ownership dispute between two parties regarding the heifers.
In November 2011 Mr Hawker and Mr Bannam were charged with the theft of a dozen Camperdown district Friesian heifers, valued at almost $30,000.
Warrnambool police detectives took over the investigation after the cattle were initially seized.
Police alleged that the cattle were trucked from near Lake Bullen Merri to a nearby farm and that electronic ear buttons and identification tags were removed and replaced. The registered Friesian heifers were valued at $2500 each.
Detective Senior Constable Colin Ryan, of the Warrnambool police criminal investigation unit, yesterday reminded farmers to keep an eye not only on their own stock but all neighbouring animals.
He said the price of Friesian heifers had increased dramatically in the past couple of years due to the lucrative export market.