Friday 30 September 2016

Rural crime: 'Current law puts farmers in front of judge and jury'

Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30

Paul Williams speaking at the ‘Farming Independent’ stand with, from left, Karen Walsh – author of ‘Farming and the Law’ – and speaker Graham Lowndes. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Paul Williams speaking at the ‘Farming Independent’ stand with, from left, Karen Walsh – author of ‘Farming and the Law’ – and speaker Graham Lowndes. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The law needs to be revised to favour landowners and householders over criminal intruders, leading specialists have argued.

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Paul Williams was joined on stage by lawyer Karen Walsh, John Tully of 'Save Our Communities', and Jer Bergin from the IFA at the Independent Talks series at the National Ploughing Championships yesterday.

Graham Lowndes, whose father's home was ransacked in April 2012 by burglar Matthew Fahey, spoke of his first-hand experience of rural crime at the event.

All of the panel agreed that a revision of the judicial system is required to tackle the problem.

"We need to help homeowners," lawyer Karen Walsh said. Ms Walsh said the Criminal Law Defence and Dwelling Act 2011 created several obstacles for homeowners who had been targeted by thieves.

"The first thing you have to prove is that this person is a trespasser - that's the first hurdle," she said. "Then you need to show you used no more force than reasonably required.

"The court look at foresight and circumstances and your state of mind. They also look at an objective test - which examines if a person in a reasonable mindset would have acted the same way."

Ms Walsh acknowledged that the act was an attempt to address the issue but it ultimately put "the farmer before a judge and jury". She argued that changes need to happen "from the top down".

"A farmer has no interest in killing someone - but they are living in such fear, they have no option but to get a gun," she said.

Jer Bergin from the IFA also stressed how important it was that farmers did not buy knocked-down produce from thieves targeting farmers and the elderly.

"There wouldn't be theft for this stuff if there wasn't a customer at the other end. That culture has to stop."

Graham Lowndes recalled the distress he experienced when his father's farm was ransacked. Burglar Fahey is now suing Mr Lowndes in a civil case after being treated for having 17 shotgun pellets in his arm.

"I was charged with the reckless discharge of a firearm and for four years I had this hanging over me as to what was going to happen to me," he said.

When the case went to court the DPP and Graham's legal team reduced it to possession of a firearm without a certificate, which he pleaded guilty to.

"My father is now terrified on the farm. Something needs to be done about rural crime," he said.

Irish Independent

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