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Friday 16 November 2018

Crow banger brought into witness stand as evidence in Kerry murder trial finishes

Garda Paul Walsh at Tralee court in Tralee with the Crow Banger. Photo By Domnick Walsh
Garda Paul Walsh at Tralee court in Tralee with the Crow Banger. Photo By Domnick Walsh
The accused, Michael Ferris of Rattoo

Anne Lucey

The evidence has finished in the trial of a 63-year-old north Kerry dairy farmer for the murder of a neighbouring tillage farmer.

The trial, which is in its second week, has heard of ”catastrophic injuries” including evulsion of the heart and liver inflicted by the prongs of a teleporter on the body of tillage farmer John Anthony O’Mahony, aged 73.

The crow banger, a red and blue funnel type object which was at the centre of issues between Mr O’Mahony and neighbours was brought into the court and put up on the witness stand while a garda witness in the stand explained its operation to the jury.  

The late Mr O’Mahony was in the driver’s seat of his car with his safety belt on at around 8 am on the morning of April 4 2017 on the narrow road to the ancient round tower of Rattoo, near Ballyduff.

His car was  lifted “clear of the ground” by a New Holland Teleporter, a heavy industrial machine, the trial has heard.

The forks of the boom of the teleporter slid along and pierced the roof of the Peugeot car “like you’d open a can of beans,” garda expert witness James O’Brien told the court.

The late John Anthony O'Mahony.
The late John Anthony O'Mahony.

Michael Ferris of Rattoo, denies murder.

In interviews with gardai on the morning of the incident, the jury was told Mr Ferris said he had blocked the road with his teleporter; he agreed he had driven the forks onto the car; and he also said: “it was about the crow banger”.

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This had been an issue for 30 years, he told gardai in Listowel, in memos read to the court.

Mr Ferris had said in the interviews with the gardai that the crow banger, used by the late Anthony O’Mahony on his 100 acres of wheat and other crops in Rattoo, would “wake the dead”.

No Crow Banger

Earlier, the jury heard how no crow banger has been used since the incident on April 4 in Rattoo.

Witness Mairead Walsh, a neighbour of Michael Ferris recalled at the request of the defence, how more traditional methods were now being used in Rattoo .

She said scarecrows like kites and hawks are flying in the air to keep away the birds, but “no crow bangers” she told Brendan Grehan SC for the defence

Ms Walsh also told old how on one occasion her children had been jumping on the straw bales on the land of the deceased land behind her home, and Michael Ferris had rung her and told her to get them out of there in case Mr O’Mahony saw them.

“Since this incident has any crow banger been used?” and she replied it had not.

On Tuesday, a red and blue crow banger was brought into the court.

The crow banger was requested by defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC. It was brought to the witness and rested on the witness stand as public service vehicle (PSV) inspector Garda James O’Brien was examined by Mr Grehan.

The crow banger was also known as a bird scarer, Garda O’Brien agreed with Patrick McGrath SC for the prosecution. It had been taken by gardai from a shed in Rattoo following the incident of April 4 , 2017.

Belgian made, it was about 20 years old and gas operated. A red muzzle 26 inches long was fitted to a blue metal unit and the entire unit was 50 inches .

It was in good condition, Garda O’Brien said. It operated like a cigarette lighter and gas and noise were “directed out through the barrel or nozzle”.

The “ferocity” or fixed noise level were not adjustable, but the frequency was, the PSV inspector said.

Where the crow banger was placed, and in which direction its nozzle faced, was also of significance. If it were in a field noise, which moved in waves, would be absorbed.

But if were against the walls, it ”reverberates”, the garda said – and if the barrel pointed at the wall, then it would be more intense again, he told Mr Grehan.

“If you fire a shot gun you only get the loud bang, not the percussion. This machine not only creates a loud bang, it pushes air in front of it.”

The PSV expert told how he had carried out a number of “comparison tests” between a standard short gun and the crow banger. The manufacturer’s instructions said the unit operated at 92 decibels and over an area the size of two football fields.

But at close range of 1m or so the sound level from the crow banger was 118 decibels – louder than the shot gun’s 113 decibels.

At a 50m distance, the crow banger and shot gun was similar, at 97 and 98 respectively, the PSV inspector found.

It was designed for the middle of a field, he felt.

“If you fire the crow banger very close you are going to hear it much louder. In the middle of the field it is going to be less.

The banger in question was set at 1 minute intervals, Garda O’Brien said indicating the setting device to the jury. It had been located by gardai in a shed on the deceased’s lands, near the Walsh’s house, Garda O’Brien said.

Mr Grehan asked if he had worn ”ear protectors” when carrying out the tests, and the garda said he had.

It was “a very disturbing noise,” Garda O’Brien also agreed.

The machine not only creates a loud bang but it pushes air in front of it, he said. You’d have ringing and your equilibrium goes funny, the PSV inspector added.

Re-examined Patrick McGrath put it to Garda O’Brien that the Ferris dwelling was 300m away from the shed and if it was that distance away it would be in operational range of manufacturer’s specifications, Garda O’Brien said.

It would “still be an intrusive noise” because of its regular recurrence – but would be much less intrusive than in Walsh’s house which the trial was told was 100m from the crow banger.

Patrick Walsh had timed the banger and found it was going off every 4 minutes and 26 seconds. They needed ear protection, Mr Walsh said and described the noise and the echo from the banger which had been placed alongside the shed near his house as “horrendous”.

No Previous Convictions

On Wednesday, the jury was told Michael Ferris had no previous convictions.

It was also told of incidents in which the deceased had appeared in court in connection with shot gun allegations – in 1993 he had shot at pheasant hunters, members of Ballyduff gun club, who strayed onto his lands without permission.

John McNamara, of Killarda, Lisselton, who was called by the defence, said there had been no warning and pellets came through the hedge and struck the head of his fellow hunter and gun club member John O’Connor.

It was not necessary to look for permission to follow dogs onto private lands if you were a member of a gun club, Mr McNamara told Tom Rice, counsel for the prosecution who put it to him that they had gone onto land without permission.

The court also heard of an incident in 1993 where two social welfare officers who called to the Rattoo lands were threatened by the deceased.

He apologised in court for this and no conviction was recorded.

Meanwhile Det Garda Paul Walsh said the shot gun recovered from the boot of the late Mr Mahony’s car on the morning of April 4, 2017, was not licensed. A licence would have been objected to, the garda said.

Ms Justice Carmel Stewart told the jury of seven men and five women to return on Thursday morning for closing speeches. The jury are not to discuss the case with anyone, she said.

The trial continues.

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