Wednesday 17 January 2018

'Jail inevitable' for man who admits to setting family dog on fire, judge warns

Andrew Richard Stewart Credit:Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Andrew Richard Stewart Credit:Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Owners of Cody the collie, Martin and Natalie Agnew Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Lesley-Anne McKeown

A man who admitted setting fire to a family's pet dog will inevitably be jailed, a Northern Ireland court has been told.

Andrew Richard Stewart, 23, from Wellington Parks, Moira, Craigavon, Co Armagh, pleaded guilty to causing unnecessary cruelty to an animal in August 2012.

His co-accused Jamie Downey, 23, from Chestnut Hall Avenue also in Moira admitted a single charge of perverting the course of justice while the animal cruelty charges were left on the court's books.

Cody, a three-year-old Collie, was left barely recognisable after she was doused in a flammable liquid and set alight in the Co Antrim village of Maghaberry on August 26 2012.

She was so badly injured her ribs and other joints were visible through the charred flesh.

The dog survived for two weeks but was eventually put down after vets concluded she would never fully recover.

Cody the collie before it was attacked Credit: Natalie Agnew/PA Wire
Cody the collie before it was attacked Credit: Natalie Agnew/PA Wire

In a dramatic development during the second day of the high profile trial at Belfast Crown Court, Stewart who had denied the charges for two years, changed his plea minutes before the dog's owners were due to give evidence.

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and purple tie, Stewart stood, flanked by a prison guard, with his hands clasped at his front and spoke loudly and clearly, replying "guilty" after the charges were read out for a second time.

Yesterday's appearance in court: Two men poured flammable liquid over pet dog and set it alight, court hears

Judge David McFarland, Belfast Recorder, said: "It is a serious matter, you will be facing an inevitable prison sentence."

Directing the jury of seven women and five men to find the defendant guilty on account of his confession, Judge McFarland also requested that a psychiatric assessment be carried out.

"I have ordered a psychiatric report to try to understand what motivated Mr Stewart to do what he did," he said.

Yesterday, the trial which was scheduled to last a week, heard that Stewart and Downey had repeatedly lied about their whereabouts on the morning Cody was attacked.

They had attended a house party close to the dog's family home and were identified by eye witnesses walking along railway tracks towards a quarry on the outskirts of Maghaberry accompanied by a black and white dog.

Cody the collie Credit: Natalie Agnew/PA Wire
Cody the collie Credit: Natalie Agnew/PA Wire

Prosecution barrister David Russell said the pair had sat on a wall and concocted a story about their whereabouts on the morning of the incident.

Mr Russell said: "Mr Stewart has accepted that he was the person who poured flammable liquid over the animal in question and set fire to it in the quarry.

"Mr Downey accepts that he had been with him throughout the course of the journey around Maghaberry and had sat on the wall at Maghaberry Road and discussed what account to give of their movements that day.

"Mr Downey gave a false account.

"Mr Stewart acted alone as far as the cruelty to an animal is concerned."

Downey who was dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and navy blue tie spoke in a low voice when the charge of perverting the course of justice was put to him.

Both men were released on bail and are due to be sentenced on October 7.

Addressing Downey, Judge McFarland said: "In the circumstances, I am going to grant bail.

"The fact that I am granting bail is not an indication as to what the sentence will be."

Cody's death sparked widespread public outrage and more than 60,000 people pledged support for an online justice campaign.

Animal rights campaigners also packed the gallery of courtroom number 11 at the Laganside Complex in Belfast city centre to hear the guilty verdicts and offered support to Cody's owners Natalie and Martin Agnew.

Mrs Agnew and her young son Jake had been due to give evidence this morning but were spared the ordeal after Stewart's last-minute confession.

Outside the court, Mrs Agnew expressed relief and said she believed justice had been done.

She said: "We are delighted with the outcome today.

"We have waited two years for the guilty verdict and we look forward to six weeks' time for the sentencing."

Mrs Agnew described the past two years as "very stressful".

She added: "It has been horrendous.

"The effect this has had on the children, let alone what they actually did to the poor dog.

"The effect it has had on my two boys is still ongoing.

"They have had to have counselling, sleepless nights, nightmares.

"It has been awful hard to come to terms with ourselves and trying to explain to children when we can't understand or fathom it ourselves is very hard.

"We are still dealing with those issues."

Meanwhile, Mr Agnew said Cody had been almost unrecognisable because of the extent of her injuries.

"The first time I saw Cody when she came back we didn't recognise her it was that bad," he said.

"I will never forget the smell or what she looked like.

"We didn't let the kids see her for a week.

"The vet said he wouldn't like to see anything like that again."

An internet fund set up by well-wishers in Cody's name has so far raised £30,000 for animal shelters in Northern Ireland and the Guide Dogs Association.

A guide dog has also be named in Cody's honour.

The Agnew family, who now have two new dogs, have expressed gratitude to the police, Public Prosecution Service and the Justice for Cody campaigners.

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