Dramatic images from land row that turned into a 'bizarre and nasty' hate campaign

Pair fined for harassment ‘by smell, by noise and by obscene signs'

It is an extraordinary story of a bitter land dispute that spiralled out of control and an astonishing insight into another side of life in the Ulster countryside.

Joseph McNulty and William Sloan carried out a campaign of harassment against Donovan Ross, reaching its climax on the day the victim's daughter was getting married.

It was described by a judge as bizarre and nasty behaviour towards a neighbour, with an attempt to harass "by smell, by noise and by obscene signage".

Details of the case were laid bare during a two-day hearing in court last week.

It heard evidence of a long-running land access dispute, an obscenely-worded sign in a field, slurry spreading and a defence claim that "political interference" had led to the charges.

McNulty (66) and Sloan (61), both with separate addresses at Ballygawley Road, Dungannon, denied pursuing a course of conduct amounting to the harassment of their neighbour, Mr Ross, on September 3 last year.

Joe McNuty (Suit RIGHT) and William Sloane (Grey jacket LEFT)
Joe McNuty (Suit RIGHT) and William Sloane (Grey jacket LEFT)

A contest was held at Dungannon Magistrates Court, during which the victim said there had been previous issues with McNulty.

Described by a judge as a "thoroughly thraan individual", McNulty had taken an unsuccessful case against Mr Ross over land right of way.

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This related to access to Eskragh Lough near Dungannon, which is owned by Mr Ross and a popular venue for fishing and watersports. Mr Ross, who owns a fishery and lives on site, had been advised of offensive graffiti daubed along the road and several signposts.

He was personally named in each of the markings and referred to in derogatory terms.

On the morning of his daughter's wedding Mr Ross contacted police after an increase in incidents.

He felt these were deliberate attempts to upset and disrupt "a time any father should be able to enjoy - his daughter's wedding".

A board measuring approximately 8x4ft had been erected on McNulty's land, and on it was written in red paint the victim's name followed by 'Neighbour from hell'. While Mr Ross did not witness all the activity, a friend who was using the fishery at the time recorded the behaviour of both McNulty and Sloan on his mobile phone.

In footage played to the court, the pair were seen in the field around the signage, which was erected on a pile of earth.

Graffiti on the road referring to Donovan Ross.
Graffiti on the road referring to Donovan Ross.

McNulty was observed hammering something into the ground in front of the sign and walking away a short distance, before looking round to survey his work.

Meanwhile, gas canister-operated crow bangers - one in each defendant's land - are heard loudly exploding at regular intervals.

Chainsaw

The men then walk from the field and McNulty re-emerges holding a chainsaw.

He walks around the perimeter of his land repeatedly revving the chainsaw but not appearing to cut anything. At one stage he walks into a clump of hedges and the chainsaw is seen pointing outwards, revving loudly but cutting nothing.

Graffiti on sign posts referring to Donovan Ross.
Graffiti on sign posts referring to Donovan Ross.

As the footage continues, Sloan climbs on board a tractor pulling a tanker and proceeds to spray slurry. However, he would claim this was not slurry but instead was spreading "grass seed mixed with water", which both the victim and witness rejected outright.

Mr Ross told the court: "No one puts grass seed out with a slurry spreader. That's done with a sower."

He also added when police arrived they noted the "stench" of slurry in the air and clearly heard the crow bangers. Neither men denied it was them in the footage, but defence barristers for both set about cross-examining Mr Ross and the witness who recorded the footage on the placement of the offensive board in the field and who put it there.

Graffiti on the road referring to Donovan Ross.
Graffiti on the road referring to Donovan Ross.

Mr Ross told the court he had taken the footage to a local political representative and asked for assistance.

A meeting was convened with police who forwarded a file to the Public Prosecution Service, and a decision was taken to proceed against both defendants.

Under cross-examination, McNulty answered most questions by saying the victim's claims were "totally and utterly incorrect".

McNulty claimed to have gone into his field on the day in question, saw the sign and believed "intruders" had come on to his land during the night and placed it there. On being asked why he did not move it he replied: "No way. I knew it shouldn't have been there and I saw what was wrote on it. No way was I going to touch it. I wouldn't go near it. I wasn't putting by fingerprints on it."

McNulty was asked if he had issues with Mr Ross in the past, and he replied: "Yes and I fought it as far as I could but it didn't go my way, so that was that."

He steadfastly maintained slurry was not being spread by the co-accused, instead claiming it was grass seed from "a multi-purpose machine".

'Aggrieved to be in court'

McNulty said he felt "aggrieved to be here in court".

Sloan, having entered the witness box, repeated much of the co-accused's version of events and stated he had been told by police who attended the scene that no offence had been committed.

Referring to the "grass sowing" and the crow bangers, Sloan said: "I've been a farmer all my life and I was just doing the things I've done many times before. I'm a member of the Ulster Farmers' Union and another farming group, and they say they never heard of anyone being prosecuted for these things."

Sloan also said he observed the sign in the field but he did not know how it got there, and like McNulty made no attempt to remove it.

McNulty's defence lawyer said the video evidence was the main focus of the case but pointed out the court should be cautious, given the matters had their origins in a land dispute. He added: "There is also the input of the meeting with the political representative which give rise to the question of political interference. This matter only became an issue after the political meeting, which police attended."

Judge John Meehan rubbished this, stating: "This is a tortuous effort to being in a conspiracy theory. The man is entitled to see his local representative."

He noted that throughout the contest, at not one point did either defendant express any horror or disgust at the obscene wording on the sign.

"Nothing as regards common decency with respect of that kind of language. Nothing from either of them," added Judge Meehan.

After about 15 minutes' deliberation the judge returned and found both McNulty and Sloan guilty.

He said: "I am satisfied they gave me dishonest evidence. With the malice in play here I have no doubt about that… this was malicious action carried out by Mr McNulty, with the assistance and encouragement of Mr Sloan.

"There was a campaign that day, by smell, by noise and by obscene signage to harass.

"This was bizarre, nasty behaviour toward a neighbour."

He described McNulty as "a thoroughly thraan individual who does not care much for others... he shouts down anyone who isn't of his world".

Judge Meehan said he wanted to mark the severity of the harassment with fines of £1,000 each, but it transpired McNulty is in receipt of a pension and Sloan only derives a low income from farming.

Instead, fines of £500 each were imposed. Judge Meehan said: "It is not enough to do justice, but the court has to measure against an ability to pay."

A prosecution application for a restraining order against McNulty was refused, with Judge Meehan saying: "At this juncture, and following the result, maybe, just maybe, he will draw his horns in."

However, he warned this could be revisited if there are any further incidents.

Belfast Telegraph


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