'Cruel' farmer jailed for bovine TB fraud
FORMER Young Dairy Farmer of the Year nominee was jailed for three years yesterday for injecting his cattle with slurry in order to defraud the State of £20,000 bovine TB compensation.
Cornelius Keane (38), from Bawnbue, Drimoleague, Co Cork, had pleaded guilty to five sample charges arising from his decision to inject potentially poisonous and harmful material into his 49-strong cattle herd on January 25, 2000, in a bid to obtain TB reactor grants.
Judge AG Murphy warned Keane that his cruelty merited a lifetime ban from farming but that the court did not have the power to impose this censure.
He added that Keane would have received a seven-year rather than three-year prison term but for the fact he acted out of sheer desperation to save his farm and that his wife, Mary, was now pregnant with their fifth child.
"This was an outrageous offence which involved gross cruelty. This man was, in effect, robbing his neighbours and the people of Ireland," Judge Murphy warned.
Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that when Department of Agriculture vets inspected Keane's farm after becoming suspicious about his TB test results, they were horrified at what they found.
Supt Veterinary Inspector, John Murray, told the court he found the cattle in severe pain, some of them with "half Gaelic-football-sized swellings" on their necks. These swellings were oozing poisonous puss.
The 37-year-old West Cork farmer pleaded guilty to sample offences, including breaches of the Criminal Damage Act (1991), Bovine TB Order (1989), Diseases of Animals Act (1979) and the Protection of Animals Act (1911).
The court was told Keane injected his cattle on January 25 last year with caustic slurry run-off from his milking parlour, a poison calculated to interfere with the accuracy of the Department of Agriculture's normal tuberculin test for TB.
His farm had already been restricted because of TB outbreaks for two years. If it was again confirmed in his herd, he stood to benefit from £21,320 in reactor grants coupled with £980 per month in income-support payments.
Counsel for the defendant, Ciaran O'Loughlin and Jim O'Mahony, pointed out that Keaneindulged in the "foolish and stupid offence" because of the grave financial plight facing his 120-acre farm.
Agri-advisor Michael Brady described Keane as "an excellent farmer" who inherited the holding in 1992 and gradually built it up from a 13,000-gallon dairy quota to a 70,000-gallon operation.
"At one point in 1994/95 I considered him to be a candidate for the Young Dairy Farmer of the Year Award," Mr Brady declared.
However, by 1998, Keane was running into financial difficulties as the agri-food business ran into difficulties and his own family expanded.
He now owes £136,000 to the Bank of Ireland, who refused to honour his cheques once his TB offence came to light.
His wife, Mary, pleaded with the court for leniency as she described him as "a great husband who adores his children and me."
Mrs Keane now supports her family from a £100-a-week supplementary welfare payment.
In urging a non-custodial sentence, Mrs Keane said her husband was willing to take a part-time job to help resolve their financial problems.
However, Judge Murphy warned that the offence was very serious and warranted a custodial sentence before imposing a three-year sentence.
"This man is from a farming background. He should know how to treat animals more so than anyone else," Judge Murphy said.
Judge Murphy also refused leave to appeal the severity of the sentence.