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Drug abuse drives goldfields thefts

AAP logoAAP 16/09/2016 Greg Roberts

WA's unenviable title of having the nation's highest rate of use of the drug ice is also driving thefts from Kalgoorlie's goldfields.

The temptation for people who work in gold mining to steal some of the product for themselves has been going on since WA's first gold rush in the 1890s.

The phenomenon of ice abusers pinching gold though is more recent.

Years of job losses and cost cutting in the mining industry around Kalgoorlie, which produces three-quarters of Australia's gold, were also contributing to a rise in thefts, said the head of the WA police's Gold Stealing Detection Unit Detective Inspector Bill Little.

"A lot of people are going on to mining company leases and removing ore, doing backyard production to try and extract gold ... there seems to be a bit of an increase in that going on, especially in the Goldfields area," Det Insp Little told reporters.

"One thing common to a lot of them is drug users and it is a way of trying to get enough money raised so they can go buy their next hit."

It is not as if the thieves are stealing processed 10 ounce gold bullion bars, valued at about $18,000 each at current prices, because the security is too great.

They are usually desperate and grab whatever they can out of the ground, Det Insp Little said.

"The sad thing about it is it is a lot of effort to basically extract a minimal amount of gold," he said.

There were two major matters currently in the courts: a Perth Mint worker charged with stealing $78,000 worth of gold and four illegal prospectors who allegedly stole more than a kilogram from the goldfields, worth more than $63,000.

The police gold stealing squad was set up in 1907 in the wake of a royal commission into a gold stealing epidemic during the gold rush.

The squad had good relationships with gold buyers in Kalgoorlie and monitored who was buying and selling online.

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