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Thursday 14 December 2017

Farmer fined after spraying neighbour's house with slurry over hedgecutting row

Court Reporter

A Carlow farmer has been ordered to pay almost €14,500 plus the legal costs of a civil action brought against him after he admitted to deliberately spraying a family home with slurry.

Ms Geoghegan, of 35 Monocurragh described how she woke up on the morning of 15 April 2016 to “a really bad smell” in her house.

She first thought that there was a problem with the sewerage but when she opened her front door to bring her children to school, she discovered that slurry had been sprayed over the lawn, the driveway, the house and their new BMW car.

“It was a horrible situation. It was all over the garden, the walls and our brand new car. It was horrific,” she told Judge Petria McDonnell. She said that her husband, Joe, was away and that she had to phone her father to help her. She also phoned the gardaí, who, in turn, contacted Carlow County Council about the matter.

'It was a circus with people driving by'

“It was like a circus, that day, with people driving by. The smell was in the garden was horrible because the weather was good,” she continued, adding that the garden and the house were covered in black flies.

Judge McDonnell heard that Liam Curran’s son, Barry, came down to the house that evening and scraped up the slurry but that a residue remained on the grass and that effluent from the waste had seeped down into their cobble lock driveway.

Eoghan O’Sullivan, BL, counsel for the Geoghegan Curran family, outlined the events leading up to the slurry spraying incident. He said that Mr Nolan was the owner of lands that were opposite to Curran’s house and that an over-grown hedge of brambles and briars was hanging over onto the roadway.

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Ms Geoghegan said that the brambles were scratching their car but that when they asked the local residents’ association about talking to Mr Nolan about the situation, they were told that they’d tried to talk to the farmer before about it and that he hadn’t addressed the situation. Ms Geoghegan continued that her husband, Joe, and another man, “trimmed back” the hedge but that they hadn’t told Mr Nolan that they were going to do it.

Judge McDonell heard that Mr Nolan subsequently went to their home, “giving out” to Mr Curran, telling him that “I know how to sort you out.”

Two weeks later, Ms Geoghegan awoke to find the garden covered in slurry. She said that the incident was captured on the family’s CCTV system which showed someone spraying their home at 2am in the morning.

Fergus Mulhare, an executive scientist from Carlow County Council inspected the waste matter. When Judge McDonnell inquired whether such material could act as a fertiliser for the lawn or whether it could be a contaminant, Mr Mulhare replied that it was a heavy, noxious substance that appeared to have been taken from the bottom of a slatted unit. It was, he said, more noxious that regular slurry and that it could encourage the growth of weeds.

The gardener recommended the lawn be replaced

Ms Geoghegan also said that even now, a year after the event, she didn’t let her two children out to play in the front of the house because she was afraid of potential pollutants and that their gardener had recommended that the lawn be removed and replaced with fresh soil. She also said that he had doused the area with Jeyes Fluid and that he had recommended that the bricks on their driveway would have to be lifted so that the sand underneath could be replaced.

Counsel for Mr Nolan, Colm Hennessy, BL, pointed out prior to the hedge-cutting incident, two trees had been cut down on his client’s land but that he accepted that Ms Geoghegan and Mr Curran were not responsible for this. Using photos in court, he also pointed out to Judge McDonnell the area of the hedge that had been cut. She heard that the hedge was originally up to eight foot tall and that it couldn’t have been just “trimmed back”.

Joe Curran was then called to give evidence was how he cut back the hedging. He said that he used a strimmers to carry out the work and that he left the cut offs in Mr Nolan’s field afterwards.

The case was before Judge McDonnell after Mr Nolan offered the Curran family €17,000 in damages and publicly apologised to them. Ms Geoghegan told Judge McDonnell that Mr Nolan hadn’t apologised to them before their day in court and that it was his son, Barry, who had tried to remedy the situation by meeting with Mr Curran and apologising to them.

An initial financial offer was rejected

The financial offer was rejected because of the costs that are incurred by cleaning up the garden, replacing the lawn and paving, and the painting of the house. The plaintiffs were also looking for personal damages because of the distress caused to Ms Geoghegan by the incident.

Mr Hennessy told the court that his client’s behaviour was “out of character” and described it as an “isolated incident”. He also said that Mr Nolan was “under enormous physical, emotional and financial stress”.

Mr O’Sullivan, on the other hand, submitted that the damages awarded should reflect the distress that the family suffered and that Mr Nolan’s “conduct was deplorable” which should be reflected in the court’s disapproval of such actions.

Judge McDonnell described the slurry spraying incident as “very upsetting” and said that it was “regrettable that Mr Curran hadn’t discussed the problem with the hedge with the farmer before cutting the hedge back. She also said that it was “more than just trimming back a hedge” but that nevertheless, nothing could excuse Mr Nolan’s behaviour.

She then awarded Ms Geoghegan and Mr Curran €14,424, including €3,500 in general damages and ordered Mr Nolan to pay their legal costs.

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