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Farmer jailed after pigs were 'cannibalised'

ONE of Ireland's biggest pig farmers was jailed for 18 months after his starving pigs cannibalised each other in what a judge warned was "cruelty on an industrial scale."

Rory O'Brien (60) was jailed after admitting he caused unnecessary suffering to his pigs, which had eaten each other alive with some feeding off dead animals in their pens.

Other animals were found sick and starving while some filthy pig units were even overrun by rats.

O'Brien, whose north Cork pig unit handled up to 20,000 animals, now owes €22m to the banks with Cork Circuit Criminal Court told his finances are "absolutely catastrophic".

The father-of-five pleaded guilty to a total of five animal cruelty and welfare charges.

Judge Sean O'Donnabhain said it was a very serious case.

"It has been my unfortunate experience to come across a number of animal welfare and cruelty cases. They are always distressing," he said.

"But I have never come across anything like this. This was cruelty on an industrial scale. This is a different league altogether.

"He openly defied them (the Department of Agriculture). What brazenness in the context of the evidence," he said as he noted that O'Brien had even written to inspectors insisting his Mitchelstown farm met the highest standards.

On one occasion, an inspector felt so threatened by O'Brien at his farm that she had to call Gardai.

On another occasion, an inspector became upset at seeing workmen watering plants in the garden near the pig farm while animals inside suffered in May heat without adequate food and water.

One animal had an untreated abscess the size of a small football on its leg.

O'Brien of Killicane, Mitchelstown, Co Cork admitted five welfare charges.

They included that on July 25, 2011 he caused unnecessary suffering to a pig by failing to treat or euthanise it after it was found eaten alive with a large bleeding wound on its left side at Killicane, Mitchelstown.

He also admitted that, between May 3 and Sept 8 2011, he failed to take the necessary measures to his animals were not caused unnecessary suffering by failing to treat or euthanise them.

O'Brien admitted that, between June 7 and 10 2011, he failed to comply with a welfare notice relating to the animals under his control and care, the notice being dated June 7.

The farmer pleaded that, on May 9 2011, he caused unnecessary suffering to a pig by failing to treat or euthanise it after it had its flesh extensively eaten out of its ribcage.

Finally, he admitted that, on June 3 2011, he caused unnecessary suffering to a boar by failing to treat or euthanise it when it had swollen joints and serious abscesses.

Inspector John McConville of the Department of Agriculture's special investigations unit said the cruelty and welfare issues were entirely about bad management and not money.

"This was not something that happened overnight. (Feeding) pipes had broken over time but were just not fixed," he said.

O'Brien's pig operation was four times the size of the average Irish pig farm and, at its peak operation, employed over 40 people.