Farmer gets suspended sentence for animal cruelty, but told he'll go 'straight to prison' if he has contact with animals again

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A farmer who four years ago became the first person in Northern Ireland to be jailed under new animal welfare legislation, yesterday received an 18 month jail sentence, suspended for four years, at the Crown Court in Derry when he pleaded guilty to two charges of cruelty to two sows.

Michael Agnew, 47, who now lives at an address in Garvagh, also received a lifetime ban from ever owning, keeping, transporting or dealing with animals. Judge Philip Babington also ordered that any animals currently owned by Agnew should be taken into the possession of officials from the Department of Agriculture and Regional Development and that Agnew should pay for those re-possession costs.

Agnew, who had 159 previous criminal convictions, nineteen of them for animal welfare offences, admitted committing the two offences of animal cruelty at his then farm at 112 Ballynease Road in Portglenone on October 6, 2015.

Prosecution barrister Catherine Chasemore told Judge Babington that Agnew was already known to D.A.R.D. officials as he had already been banned from keeping livestock due to his previous convictions.

She said in 2015 officials from the department were concerned about the conditions of certain animals on Agnew's farm. On October 6, 2015, officials called at the farm to carry out a full welfare inspection of all the livestock.

"Upon inspection of the livestock inspectors noted two sows that were deemed to be suffering unnecessarily. They were described as being particularly thin. One had a large mammary abscess which had burst and the other had a spinal abscess.

"The DARD veterinary officer believed the sows should have received curative treatment or been humanely destroyed well before October 6 and that they were suffering unnecessarily.

"He explained this to the defendant and stated that now the only humane option to treat the sows was to euthanise them. The defendant strenuously objected to this and insisted that his own vet was called for a second opinion. This was done and she agreed that the sows be euthanised, which the defendant then agreed to. The defendant was invited to be interviewed on two occasions but failed to give an account", Ms. Chasemore said.

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The prosecutor said Agnew's previous convictions included him allowing his sheep to become maggoted, for failing to dispose of the carcasses of three sheep, one donkey, one horse and two cows and allowing other livestock to access the carcasses. She said on one occasion in December 2012 officials found numerous dead animals on Agnew's farm.

A defence barrister said Agnew was the father of six children, all of them under the age of eight. He had separated from his partner and moved to Portrush but now lived in Garvagh. The barrister said Agnew only called at his Portglenone farm to collect or drop off his children and no longer had any involvement in the management of the farm.

The barrister said Agnew was terrified of going to jail having previously served a jail sentence for a similar offence four years ago.

"This farm has been there for generations and the defendant has always been involved in running the farm. This was not a case of widespread neglect, it involved two sows. His record in terms of animal welfare is atrocious but this offending did not involve flocks nor herds", the barrister said.

Judge Babington said Agnew should not be allowed within miles of any animals.

"Any animal seeing this man coming over the horizon would have a heart attack. This man should be kept miles away from every living creature", he said.

"His record is staring out at me and saying he should be sent to prison. Just because this is a case involving animals as the injured parties rather than a person does not in any way make the case in itself any less serious. The way he has been treating animals is nothing short of disgraceful", he said.

Judge Babington said the maximum sentence for each offence was one of five years in prison, but he said sending Agnew to jail would be detrimental to his six children.

"Your former partner and your children still live on the farm and you want to have contact with your six children but if you every have any have any contact with animals again you will be going straight to prison", he told Agnew.

Belfast Telegraph