Farm Ireland

Sunday 24 March 2019

Farmer who wrote €68,000 worth of fraudulent cheques avoids prison

Farmer has since had a 230-acre farm signed over to him by his parents (Stock photo)
Farmer has since had a 230-acre farm signed over to him by his parents (Stock photo)

Staff Reporter

A Fermanagh farmer who wrote fraudulent cheques and made false representations for payments totalling approximately €68,000 despite knowing there were insufficient funds to honour them has avoided a jail sentence.

Keith Crawford also committed a series of driving offences, one of which was detected while he was behind the wheel of a tractor he knew had been stolen.

Dungannon Crown Court heard that on March 3, 2016, Crawford (42), of Kinneen Road, Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, agreed to pay £51,800 for 370 sheep from another farmer, but failed to honour the deal.

On being challenged by the owner, Crawford went on to write cheques to the victim for £30,000 and £10,000 - both of which bounced.

He was also caught driving a stolen New Holland tractor while disqualified and without insurance on April 29, 2016 at Main Street in Derrylin.

Three months later in the same area Crawford was detected behind the wheel of a Land Rover Discovery, also while disqualified and without insurance.

Finally, on August 8, 2016, Crawford bought a vehicle from a Co Fermanagh dealership using a cheque for £20,500, which also bounced.

He first appeared at Dungannon Crown Court on March 7 where not guilty pleas were entered to all allegations and the case was in preparation for trial.

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But on April 28 defence counsel sought a rearraignment, and Crawford accepted all charges.

Judge Fowler said: "The defendant was interviewed by police (after the fraudulent sheep payments) and whilst matters were pending, in an extremely arrogant fashion tried to obtain a vehicle from a car dealership.

"He issued a cheque for £20,500 knowing there were insufficient funds to cover the payment."

He added: "All these offences occurred despite previous convictions for bouncing cheques.

"It may be the defendant was lulled into a false sense of security or confused by the leniency of how he was dealt with in the a lower court on that occasion.

"These matters are before the Crown Court and the defendant tried to defraud two people out of very substantial sums of money."

Noting Crawford has since had a 230-acre farm signed over to him by his parents, the judge was critical that there had been no efforts made to repay victims until the very last minute.

However, he accepted that in the run-up to sentencing full restitution had been made, including an agreed sum of £25,000 paid to the sheep farmer, who had managed to recover some of the animals from the original deal.

Judge Fowler handed down a total of three years' imprisonment, suspended for three years.

"I am affording an opportunity not to serve custody at this time," he said.

"I am told this behaviour is not going to be repeated ever again. That is entirely up to the defendant."

As well as the suspended sentence, Crawford was disqualified from driving for three years.

Earlier in the week Crawford did spend one night in custody when Judge Fowler discovered £1.000 was outstanding since 2015 for previous convictions.

On Tuesday the judge ordered Crawford to be remanded in custody overnight while he considered this point.

On return the next day, Judge Fowler said: "I note the defendant recently had a 230-acre farm signed over to him, yet he has an outstanding fine of £1,000.

"I am ordering him to be readmitted to bail to return for sentencing on Friday."

He added: "He would be well advised to have that fine paid in full."

Before sentencing started yesterday, defence counsel confirmed the fine had been fully discharged.

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