Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

Farmer told 'what you've done to your neighbour is unforgivable'

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Carol Byrne

A Clare farmer has received a suspended three-year jail term and a €3,000 fine after it was uncovered using DNA tracing that he was responsible for three separate thefts of cattle from his neighbour. 

Ahead of delivering his sentence the judge in the case of Padraig O’Brien (42) of Magherigh, Mountshannon, said: “what you have done to your neighbour is unforgivable”.

O’Brien pleaded guilty at Ennis Circuit Criminal Court to 15 counts of theft relating to cattle worth €17,000.

The offences involved the theft of five in-calf heifers from Bohatch, Mountshannon between January 17 and 18, 2015; the theft of six heifers from Kilrateera, Mountshannon between May 23 and 24, 2013, and the theft of four cows from Bohatch between December 8 and 9, 2013.

The court heard that gardaí were led to O’Brien after they found “sporadic hoof marks on the ditches” in frost, leading to his farmyard in January 2015. Five heifers stolen on that occasion were recovered in a segregated area on his farm.

However an extensive 10-month investigation involving gardaí and the Department of Agriculture got underway to tie O’Brien to the two other earlier thefts. The court heard O’Brien was directly linked to the other incidents after DNA testing was used to trace the remaining stolen cattle through their progeny.  

On Friday Judge Gerald Keys said that gardaí found that due to the “excellent observation” of Detective Casey who discovered hoof marks, five of the missing heifers were located on O’Brien’s farm.  

He said gardaí had also established that O’Brien had applied for an unusual number of replacement tags in 2013, the year of the earliest thefts and using DNA tracing they linked O’Brien to the remaining thefts.

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Judge Keys said that O’Brien only admitted the charges before the court when confronted with the information about replacement tags, and the DNA linking him to the cattle of John Forde, the injured party.  

He said the loss to Mr Forde was estimated at €17,000 and that it was to O’Brien’s “credit” that he had repaid this money to the injured party.

“Theft of this nature in a country that relies so heavily on the beef trade makes this all the more serious. You being a farmer and raising cattle should know better. What you have done to your neighbour is unforgivable,” he said.

Judge Keys said he acknowledged that O’Brien had been shunned by neighbours, and that other farmers who owed him money had refused to pay him because of this case. This Judge Keys said he “cannot condone”.

He told O’Brien that his actions would “haunt” him for some time to come.

He said O’Brien was a farmer that had been well respected prior to this, and he had a substantial land holding with 50 to 60 cattle.

He said there was little risk of him re-offending and that he had no previous convictions.

Having read a clinical psychologist’s report in the matter Judge Keys said at the time these offences occurred O’Brien was “under significant mental distress” and financial pressure.

He described the theft from a neighbour with whom he had a “close relationship” as being an aggravating factor.

“You co-operated eventually with the investigation and showed remorse. I’m also conscious that you have been shunned in society and by farmers in the locality and that will probably continue for some time,” he said.

He told O’Brien it was up to him to prove he would never re-offend.  

He imposed a three-year concurrent sentence in respect of three of the charges relating to January 2015; May 2013, and December 2013 and took the other charges into consideration.

He suspended the entire period of imprisonment for three years on the condition that O’Brien enter a bond to keep the peace and not to re-offend within that time.

A fine of €3,000 was also imposed.

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