Stolen Limousin heifers found five months later, 40 miles away and with false tags

Money had been the motivation, the court heard. Stock image
Money had been the motivation, the court heard. Stock image

Anne Lucey

Limousin heifers kept for breeding were stolen from a remote rural field at the foot of Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain, and found five months later with false tags forty miles away near Banna Strand, the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee was told.

Two of the false tags had been removed from dead animals “washed up on the tide” at Banna Strand, the court was told.

A neighbouring farmer admitted he had stolen the animals, and he and two other men also involved in farming and or cattle dealing were “complicit” , the court was told at the sentencing hearing on Tuesday.

Money had been the motivation, the court heard. It had been a painstaking investigation to trace the animals in what was a serious and unacceptable activity in rural Ireland, the court was told.  

Declan Murphy aged 38 of Glencuttane , Kilgobnet Beaufort had pleaded guilty to the theft of the four heifers, the property of Neilly O’Sullivan; Peter Lawlor aged 56 of Banna,  Ardfert had pleaded guilty to handling the four stolen heifers at Carrahane, Ardfert and Eugene Cronin aged 56 of Nunstown , Aghadoe had pleaded guilty to withholding information from gardai.  

Next to disputes over land, stealing another farmer’s cattle still resulted in a lifetime stigma in rural Ireland  the men, who had no previous convictions,  would suffer opprobrium in their communities and at the mart, defence counsels said, pleading for non-custodial sentences.

Investigating Garda Eamonn Prendiville, giving evidence at the sentencing hearing in Tralee told Tom Rice prosecuting counsel, told how on 12 December 2013  Mr O’Sullivan had left six heifers in his roadside field,  in a remote rural area at the foot of Carrauntoohil Mountain, and the next morning four of them were gone.

Local farmers were canvassed, marts visited, appeals put out on media by gardai  and “a big effort” was made to locate the missing heifers, the Killorglin based garda said.

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In May 2014,  information led gardai to the farm of Peter Lawlor at Banna, Ardfert. Mr Lawlor co-operated and said he had received four heifers from Declan Murphy and had paid him €1,000 in cash.

Department of Agriculture birth tags had been removed and replaced with false tags; Mr Lawlor told gardai he had got two off dead animals washed out on the tide at Banna and said Eugene Cronin had given him the other two tags, Garda Prendiville said.

DNA testing by the Department established these were indeed Mr O’Sullivan’s cattle. Both Mr Murphy and Mr Lawlor were arrested Mr Cronin came voluntarily to the garda station. He had provided the truck for the removal of the cattle, Garda Prendiville said.

All three men co-operated fully. Garda Prendiville said the motivation seemed to be ”money” and he rejected it was about a dispute about trespass of animals.

Barrister Brian McInerney, had suggested there had been a prior dispute “over cattle and ditches” and he and defence counsels John O’Sullivan and Katie O’Connell said their clients would suffer “the odium of the community” for a lifetime.

Department of Agriculture penalties and restrictions and department inspections were also likely.

The matter could have been dealt with in the District Court, but the three men had opted initially for trial.

In a victim impact statement Neilly O’Sullivan told of the anxiety he and his family suffered after his heifers went missing;  everywhere he went he was looking over ditches to see if he could spot them. And when they were eventually returned he had to isolate the heifers he kept for breeding for nine weeks,  in case they had picked up a disease.

All had false tags, when they returned in business where “traceability” was of utmost importance.

It was stressful and disappointing it was a neighbour – Declan Murphy who lived next door - who took my cattle, “ Mr O’Sullivan also said.

It had led to  “stress and tension between the families” and had a terrible effect on his elderly parents, Mr O’Sullivan said in his victim impact statement read by investigating garda Eamonn Prendiville.

He still suffered anxiety about his animals  and now had locks on all his gates

Judge Thomas E O’Donnell handing down sentence said it was clear to him that the victim suffered considerable stress and it was also clear the three co-accused were “complicit” in the operation .

“While it might appear as a simple theft, it led to a complex and painstaking investigation and Gard Prendiville is to be complimented,” the judge said.

The court was sending a strong message taking animals was serious and unacceptable, Judge O’Donnell said.

He handed down convictions and periods of suspended sentences on condition of good behaviour  –  a conviction for theft and nine months prison in the case of Declan Murphy, suspended for nine months.

Mr Murphy is further ordered to pay the €230 costs of the DNA tests to the Department of Agriculture

Peter Lawlor received a conviction for handling stolen property with nine months prison,  suspended for nine months;  seven counts brought against Mr Lawlor to do with animal regulatory matters  were taken into consideration;  and Eugene Cronin was  convicted of withholding information under the Criminal Justice Act and handed a six months sentence, again suspended for six months.

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