Same game, different rules

“SINCE my transfer to Kalgoorlie 12 months ago, I have recognised that gold stealing has been carried out to an enormous extent. I call it a business, for such it is, pure and simple.”

These were the words of Detective Sergeant Peter Kavanagh, officer in charge of the Kalgoorlie CIB, in 1906.

Gold theft remains enough of a business to keep a seven-man special investigative WA Police Service unit based in Kalgoorlie.

But investigating such theft is a different beast these days.

When the Gold Stealing Detection Unit was set up in 1907, from a Royal Commission established on Det Sgt Kavanagh’s claims, most cases of theft involved work-face theft of handfuls of gold-laced ore.

These days, with plenty of mine workers sitting in large vehicles well above the ore, and very different extraction processes, it’s more likely to be not handfuls, but millions of dollars worth of gold that go missing, far more discreetly.

And while GSDU chief Detective Senior Sergeant Peter McComish says there are fewer incidences of gold theft, investigating these takes far longer and often extends beyond local territory.

One unresolved case, a $2.6 million laundering operation stretching back to 1994, resulted in some early connected charges, but has sent officers from the Kalgoorlie unit throughout WA and to the eastern states on numerous occasions.

Yet the complexity of investi-gations, the travel away from home and the obligatory Kalgoorlie residency has not shortened the queue of those hoping to become part of WA’s “gold squad”.

Det Sen Sgt McComish said part of the appeal of a job he described as “quite rewarding” was the reputation attached to the squad.

“It’s held in high regard to the extent we get calls from interstate and overseas to act as consultants or conduct security reviews well outside our jurisdiction,” he said.

Though an operational unit within the WA Police Service, and funded by the gold industry through the Chamber of Minerals and Energy, with approval from the CME and WA Police, the GSDU can, and is keen to, become part of these external investigations.

“It keeps the guys at the cutting edge,” Det Sen Sgt McComish said. “And it maintains both our profile and reputation.”

The squad recently has assisted with investigations and security operations in Fiji, New Zealand and the majority of Australian states and territories, and has received requests from Africa, Canada and the Solomon Islands.

The GSDU also has provided training advice to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police diamond and gold squad, and each year trains officers from a similar squad in the Northern Territory.

At home the squad also plays a preventative role by offering advice, training, security reviews and clearance services to companies.

Its officers often receive “little snippets, wisps of information” just by being well known in the community and remaining out and about, Det Sen Sgt McComish said.

Other methods of acquiring and piecing together information, however, have changed just as dramatically as the nature and means of gold theft.

The 1907 squad did not enjoy the benefit of information flowing from Crime Stoppers, mining companies, other police agencies or direct phone calls into the office.

Nor did it have the advantage of training in gold-digging practice. The oldest specialist investigative WA Police Service unit, today’s GSDU members are chosen from those with criminal investigation experience and trained in extractive metallurgy and gold plant operations.

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