EAST Clare gardaí and the Department of Agriculture were today [Thursday] commended for what was described as “without question the most outstanding piece of police work” in a cattle rustling case.
Remarkably the comments were made by the defence counsel for Padraig O’Brien, (42), of Magherigh, Mountshannon who pleaded guilty at Ennis Circuit Criminal Court to 15 counts of theft offences relating to the animals worth €17,000.
The offences involved the theft of five in-calf heifers from Bohatch, Mountshannon between January 17 and 18, 2015; the theft of six heifers from Kilrateera, Mountshannon between May 23 and 24, 2013, and the theft of four cows from Bohatch between December 8 and 9, 2013.
Gardaí and the Department of Agriculture used DNA testing to trace the stolen cattle through their progeny providing links back to O’Brien.
Presiding Judge Gerald Keys commended the gardaí for their “Trojan work” highlighting that this country’s system of tracing cattle is “one of the best in the world” and should be “treasured”.
Detective Garda Bernard Casey of Killaloe Garda Station explained that John Forde, (74), who runs a suckler herd in Mountshannon, reported the three separate cattle thefts between 2013 and 2015.
Their investigations turned up nothing of evidential value in the 2013 cases but at the time of the most recent theft there had been a hard frost. Gardaí detected “sporadic hoof marks on the ditches” which led them 2km away to the entrance to O’Brien’s farmyard. The five heifers stolen were recovered on his farm.
Detective Casey said O’Brien denied any involvement in the thefts and in the 2013 thefts. As a result an intensive 10 month investigation was launched involving the Department of Agriculture. Using DNA the gardaí were able to connect the outstanding stolen cattle to relatives of the animals and ultimately link them to O’Brien.
Detective Casey said he was in daily contact with department officials during this DNA process, which was facilitated by Weatherby’s DNA Laboratory.
Links to the stolen cattle were found in Louth, Mayo, Galway, Tipperary and elsewhere in Clare.
The investigation also found that 40 replacement tags – “a suspiciously high amount” – had been requested by O’Brien in 2013, which also aided the tracing efforts.
Of the four cattle stolen in December 2013, three were recovered through DNA testing and a fourth was recovered due to admissions by O’Brien.
In the initial case only one of the six animals was located but it could not be returned to the owner as it was sold on to a feed lot herd and could only go to slaughter from there. Some of the other cattle had been slaughtered, the court heard.
An independent assessor placed the total consequential loss to Mr Forde at €17,000 and this sum was offered as compensation by O’Brien.
Garda Casey said O’Brien only made admissions when presented with the DNA evidence at which time he accepted responsibility.
The court heard the accused and injured party were neighbours and while it was a relief to the Forde’s that the perpetrator had been identified, it was also “tinged with sadness because they had a close bond with Padraig O’Brien”.
Mr Pat Whyms, BL for O’Brien, said his client’s motivation was borne from financial pressure and he said there was a stigma attaching to his client in the community.
O Brien tendered an apology to the Forde family and the gardaí for his actions.
“He will live with this all his life and they will too, an old friendship has been broken. I don’t see any gain in putting him in prison,” Mr Whyms concluded.
Judge Keys said he needed time to read reports handed into the court and he reserved judgement until next Friday, April 7.