'They want to intimidate us off the land so they don’t have to pay for it': Farmer forced off his land in ongoing row
A Sheep farmer claims he’s being forced off his own land by a man who left a woman paralysed in a savage rape attack 30 years ago.
Mark Thornton was threatened not to come near a small farm he owns in Bellanaleck, Co. Fermanagh, last year by Bernard Quigley, he claims.
Quigley and his family claim they had a gentleman’s agreement in place to buy the land – which they previously owned – back and they deny any hate campaign against Mr Thornton.
Quigley (58) was once sentenced to seven years in jail for a rape attack that shocked Ulster at the time when his victim – who had just attended her daughter’s wedding – was left in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
Last week Quigley was arrested after Mark Thornton claimed he had been assaulted on his own land – where livestock belonging to the Quigley family has been grazing for several months.
A PSNI spokesperson said: “On Tuesday, 1 May, police received a report that at approximately 8.30pm a man, aged in his thirties, was assaulted by another male in a field in the Rossavally area of Fermanagh. A 58-year-old man was arrested by police and is assisting with inquiries.”
The Sunday World has heard a taped recording of a phone call between Bernard Quigley and Mark Thornton where Mr Quigley admits that an altercation had taken place with Mark.
And Quigley is heard saying: “You’ll get worse if you don’t sort this out Mark”.
And when asked by the Sunday World why Mark Thornton had been assaulted he said: “Well he shouldn’t have been on that land.”
Amid fears that tensions could escalate into more violence police say they are trying to resolve the matter.
Inspector Hoy said: “We take our responsibility to keep people safe seriously and we are proactive in our efforts to deter and detect criminality. Police have been working with parties involved in this incident in an effort to resolve this matter, and with the support of the community we can help build a safe, confident and peaceful society.”
But Mark says he feels he has been let down by the Department of Agriculture Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) as well as the PSNI.
Tensions have been mounting since last March, according to Derrylin farmer Mark, whose family own around 300 acres across Co. Fermanagh and roughly 800 sheep.
Thornton’s predecessors had bought the land – around 30 acres beside the Quigley home – from the Quigleys in 1983 but last year they said they wanted to buy it back.
The Quigleys have told the Sunday World they had a gentleman’s agreement with Mark’s uncle Alan to buy the land last year while confirming no deal for the land was ever struck and no money ever changed hands.
And speaking to this paper Alan Thornton says he changed his mind about the deal because of the Quigleys’ aggressive behaviour and instead he transferred the deeds of the land to Mark.
Mark says instead of agreeing a fair price to buy the land from him he has been subjected to a sinister hate campaign.
That has included a number of assaults, threats, criminal damage to property at the farm and having his own livestock put off the land.
A spokesperson for the Quigley family denied they had been intimidating Mark Thornton, saying nobody had been charged and there was no evidence to say they were behind the damage carried out on the farm.
“Mark Thornton has several enemies – you are trying to make a victim out of a rogue,” said the family representative.
Last night the police confirmed allegations of assault had been made by Mark and added the PSNI has been “working with parties involved in this incident in an effort to resolve this matter”.
Mark Thornton says he hasn’t been able to farm his own land for the last year and tens of thousands of pounds of damage has been done to fencing.
“They started putting their own cattle on the land and wouldn’t take it off. If I went and put my sheep on someone else’s land the department wouldn’t be long in telling me about it,” says 30-year-old Mark.
“Yet this man has had his animals on my land for ages and nobody seems to care.
“I had to go to court to get an order to force them to remove their livestock which worked for a while but then they just went back to putting their own animals on the land.
“Then fences were cut between the fields, grass was sprayed with weedkiller and a contractor was threatened to stop cutting silage on the fields.
“The cattle crush was destroyed and the outside fence was removed completely. Farm machinery has been badly damaged by rocks and stones.”
The Quigley family spokeperson accepts that damage was done to the farm but say there’s no evidence they were involved.
Mark says when he put his own animals on the land the Quigley’s removed them into another field or out onto the road.
The Sunday World has seen a video taken by Mark last July showing Mark driving his jeep on the land.
Rocks can be heard hitting the vehicle and in the video is an unidentified man standing with a balaclava over his head, standing on the other side of the fence with Bernard Quigley. That incident happened around the same time Mark claims he was punched by a member of the Quigley family.
The police told us: “On 27th July 2017 police received a report of an assault on a man aged in his thirties. A 38-year-old man was arrested and a file forwarded to the PPS.”
No charges were brought on that incident and Mark says he has contact the PSNI dozens of times over a series of incidents but he says they keep telling him it’s hard to do anything without solid evidence.
“It’s frustrating because farming has been in this family for generations, it’s in the blood. They want to intimidate us off the land so they don’t have to pay for it.
“Me and my father have offered them several chances to buy the land. Meetings have been arranged but they never turn up. All they need is a solicitor and the right money and we can end this but they aren’t serious about buying it. They think they can intimidate me but I’m going nowhere.”
The Sunday World has learned the issue of illegal cattle on Mark’s land has been sent to the enforcement division of DAERA but nothing has been done.
However, a spokesperson for the department would only say: “We don’t discuss individual cases.”
Mark says: “I honestly think the fact I’m a Protestant farmer down at the border goes against me. I don’t think the department have taken my case seriously.”
The Sunday World contacted Bernard Quigley but in a bizarre move he handed his mobile phone to someone else who pretended to be him.
Bernard Quigley was found guilty of causing GBH and rape to a woman on her daughter’s wedding day and sentenced to seven years in jail.
In his defence it was argued at Enniskillen Crown Court that there had been no premeditation and that he had drunk seven or eight pints of beer.
Quigley claimed it had started out as consensual sex but that he didn’t restrain himself when the woman complained she was in pain.
The judge said the victim’s injuries were “quite catastrophic” as she would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. “Your victim must have been caused agonising pain. Short of causing death it is difficult to imagine worse consequences of an assault.”