'I was stupid to burn down hay barn and farm equipment worth €77,000'

Stock picture
Stock picture

Carol Byrne

A Co Tipperary man, who caused more than €75,000 worth of damage by setting fire to farm buildings and machinery, did so because he “went the wrong way about” recouping monies allegedly owed to him.

Daniel Kelly (24) of Tulla, Capparoe, Nenagh, Co Tipperary appeared before Ennis Circuit Criminal Court this week having pleaded guilty to arson causing €77,500 worth of damage to a barn and farm machinery on February 1, 2015.

He together with a co-accused, Cathal Griffin (26) of Wilton, Ballymackey, Nenagh, Co Tipperary pleaded guilty to the theft of property valued at €3,800 including electric fencing, a chainsaw and two power hoses.

Garda Conor Horan of Killaloe Garda Station outlined that he went to the scene of a fire at the farm of Patrick Scanlan at Garraunboy in Killaloe on February 2, 2015.

It was established that the fire had damaged two farm buildings that were attached to one another and farm machinery contained inside the buildings. Patrick Scanlan was alerted to the fire by his father and he came to the farm and managed to drive one harvester out of the building which was on fire. He also managed to get one silage trailer out of the barn but two were still inside and were already on fire.

Garda Horan said the metal was red hot on these trailers so Mr Scanlan said he would just let the fire fighters do their work. There was also a fertiliser and silage spreader in the buildings. The fertiliser spreader was valued at €4,000 and the silage spreader was valued at €2,500.

The two trailers were valued at €15,000 a piece. Garda Horan said the Scanlans had also purchased new tyres for a tractor that went up in the fire.

He outlined that the roof had to be cut off one of the barns due to structural damage caused by the fire. 

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“The following day Patrick Scanlan was dealing with the aftermath of what happened and he went to get an angle grinder and found it was missing,” Garda Horan said.

He explained that a number of tools and equipment to the value of €6,000 had been taken including five or six bags of coal. Some of these had been recovered but there was an outstanding loss of €2,000. 

Garda Horan estimated the total loss to Mr Scanlan out of the incident was €85,000 and the farmer “didn’t know why he would be targetted in this way”.

The court heard gardaí identified Daniel Kelly as a person of interest as they recovered a number of the stolen items from a person who had received them from Kelly.

They came to Griffin’s involvement having identified a silver Nissan Micra car from CCTV. 

Kelly told gardaí he went to Mr Scanlan’s farm “to steal tools in lieu of wages owed to him for work he did on the farm”.

He said the idea was to take items to the value of what he was owed and he brought Griffin along “as transport”.

Garda Horan said Kelly “admitted setting fire to bales of hay in the barn, and they went up quickly”.

“He said he was unaware that machinery was in the barn, but accepts he was employed by Mr Scanlan and would have had knowledge of the barns”.

“Griffin knew he was going to Mr Scanlan’s to take tools as payment and while it was Kelly’s idea he knew he would be getting something out of it,” he said.

The court heard Griffin took a number of tools as his payment for transporting Kelly, but he did not know Kelly would set fire to the barn, that this was a “last minute decision”. 

Judge Gerald Keys was told Kelly had no previous convictions at the commission of this offence but had accumulated 70 subsequent convictions including offences for burglary, theft, entering a building, unauthorised taking, and 29 offences under road traffic legislation.

Griffin has no previous convictions.

Kelly’s defence counsel Lorcan Connolly BL cross-examined the garda, who confirmed there was one seat of the fire and that accelerant had not been used.

Mr Connolly said his client’s motivation was to take equipment to the value of monies owed, although the court later heard Mr Scanlan denies money was owed to Kelly as wages.

He said his client accepted this was his idea and said in interview “I wanted my money that was owed. I went the wrong way about it. It was stupid what I did”.

He said Kelly hadn’t planned the arson he had just lit a match and threw it at the hay in the shed. In interviews Kelly described his actions as “madness”, “it wasn’t planned” and “reckless”.

“It’s my fault, my doing, it’s all my fault...I felt I was getting my own back. I didn’t enjoy it but I took it too far” Kelly told gardaí.

It was also outlined that Kelly wasn’t tired, drunk or high on the night.

Garda Horan said Kelly was frank in relation to his involvement in the fire and that the arson it seemed to be a last minute decision just as they were leaving.

Mr Connolly said Kelly had was engaged in agricultural work and in full time employment up to 2015, but that Kelly had dabbled in drugs and fell into bad company in recent years and had attained a record.

Defence counsel for Griffin, Kenneth Kerins BL, said his client was honest with gardaí from the beginning giving an accurate account of his involvement. He said he is out of work due to a medical issue and he had written a letter of apology to the injured party.

He said his client had purchased items to the value of €4,958 to cover the loss of what was stolen.

“He purchased them to mitigate against the loss”

The court was told that Mr Scanlan recouped just €15,000 in respect of two trailers damaged in the fire from his insurance leaving him €70,000 out of pocket.

The court heard Kelly is currently serving a sentence of 16 months and is due for release on February 24, 2018 on that matter. He has also been in custody on remand in this case since November 3, 2016.

Mr Connolly read out a letter of apology his client wrote to the accused in which he said Kelly said he was in a bad place, “involved with the wrong crowd” and was abusing prescription medication. In the letter he puts it to Mr Scanlan if he “might consider forgiving” him.

In Griffin’s letter of apology he outlined, “I am extremely sorry. There is nothing I can do to undo the wrong I’ve done. It is totally inexcusable”. He said with the help of his family he had turned his life around.

Although Griffin offered replacement equipment the court heard this offer was made 15 months after the incident and was not accepted by Mr Scanlan, who by then had replaced many of the items.

Judge Keys reserved his judgement in the case and adjourned sentence to April 25 next.

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