Defendant ‘brought shame on his family’ - Suspended sentence for thefts of pedigree cows
In a case that presented like a detective novel, the outcome of a seven-year-old investigation was concluded at Cavan Circuit Criminal Court last week.
Jerome Smith (65) pleaded guilty to stealing a Holstein Friesian, valued at £10,000 in 2010, and a second count of stealing the same breed of cow, valued at €5,000, in August of 2016.
Two further charges of possession of a stolen tractor and an Ifor Williams trailer were entered as a nolle prosequi by the State.
The case featured a search in the early hours of the morning, Garda deductive reasoning, DNA evidence, and the high value thefts.
Liam Murphy brought his prize Holstein Friesians to Virginia show at 7:15am on August 24, 2016. When he went to collect the animal at 6:20pm, he was told the heifer was gone.
Over 40 people helped Liam in his search to recover the animal, but it could not be found. The Gardaí were called in and the investigation commenced.
Five days later, at 1:30am, the authorities executed a warrant at Smith's farm at Aghaloory, Ballyheelan, Kilnaleck. Garda Barry Crudden gave evidence to Judge John Aylmer about the incident. He said confidential information had led them to the Kilnaleck farm.
Gda Crudden spoke to Smith about the search. A number of animals were brought into the yard. Gardaí discovered the original tags of the heifer stolen from Virginia show in a shed on the property.
The officer told the judge that markings on Holstein Friesians are as unique as fingerprints. Gda Crudden said that Smith had no difficulty with the owner of the stolen animal attending at the scene to view the stock on the farm. He said Smith helped with the rounding up of the cows.
While the search was taking place, officers discovered an Iffor Williams tailor with the chassis number cut out and a Massey Ferguson T93 with a ‘03 D’ reg plate. One of the officers pointed out that the model of the tractor had ceased manufacturing in the late 90s. The licence plate actually belonged to a Seat Ibiza car.
Smith was arrested and brought to Bailieboro Garda station where he made no attempt to hide the fact he took the heifer. In interview he referred to the “stolen” cow, said he took the tags off, indicated he intended to breed the animal and, when asked why he had not returned it, replied: “I wanted to keep her.”
The farmer maintained his innocence about the stolen tractor and trailer. He said he paid €3,000 for the trailer to a man called Joyce he met in Edgeworthstown. In interview, Smith said he purchased the tractor “off the side of the road” from Seamus Kane and he had an invoice for it.
The garda contacted the man alleged to have sold the tractor. Although acknowledging dealing with the defendant, he denied selling him that tractor. Gda Crudden said suspicion was raised about another Holstein Friesian found on the farm.
The evidence relating to the earlier theft was given to the court by Garda Adrian O'Hanlon. He told of attending the Smith farm with an inspector from the Department of Agriculture on September 6, 2016. This was an investigation into a cow stolen from Virginia Show in 2010.
The victim, Ivan Robinson from County Down, had a 10 month old pure bred Holstein Friesian worth £10,000 taken in similar circumstances to the 2016 robbery.
Garda O'Hanlon said: “At the time of the original search of Mr Smith's farm, suspicions were raised about one of the animals. Mr Smith became a person of interest in regard to an older investigation. Accompanied by a vet, we took DNA samples from one cow in the herd that appeared extremely similar to the animal stolen in 2010.”
The court heard that, although the defendant presented registration papers for the animal, the DNA sample was sent to Weatherbys Scientific. This confirmed that the prize-winning cow belonged to Mr Robinson.
Before the results were back, Smith admitted taking the animal. He had won prizes for the Friesian at four different shows in the intervening years. Garda O'Hanlon said of the dairy farmer: “His life is about going to agricultural shows.”
A statement that the thefts could have put Virginia's Show “in jeopardy” by damaging its reputation was objected to by the defendant's counsel.
Smith was represented in proceedings by two different barristers. Breffni Gordon BL said his client was entirely co-operative, had apologised to the injured parties and was “deeply ashamed and embarrassed”.
He explained how Smith found himself in “straitened financial circumstances” as a result of historic mortgages. He was separated from his wife and had limited means. He supplemented his income from a “very small dairy farm” by working in the local mart one day a week.
Mr Gordon said his client "brought shame on his family”. He said, although the defendant's daughter had recently been married, Smith was not invited to the wedding. Counsel handed in references from employers and a report from a medical doctor indicating that Smith suffers from depression.
He said psychiatric problems were exacerbated by financial difficulties. The court heard that the animals were returned to their rightful owners and €4,000 in compensation was paid to Mr Robinson.
In concluding the case, Judge Aylmer described it as an “odd offence” motivated by the desire to engage in showing and breeding quality animals at fairs. The judge said that the defendant’s financial circumstances would have precluded him from such activities.
Noting that Smith was “otherwise a man of good character” the judge said he would not expect him to engage in this type of activity. Mitigating circumstances identified by Judge Aylmer included the defendant's co-operation, his disgrace in the community and the significant embarrassment to Smith and his family.
The judge said he would reduce the appropriate sentence from 18 months to 12 months for each of the offences, but would direct that the defendant complete 240 hours of community service in lieu of the prison sentence.
The judge also noted the nolle prosequi for the tractor and trailer offences.
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