ANIMAL cruelty charges dating back almost a decade were withdrawn this Wednesday on the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Farmer John Burke, aged 59, of Duncummin House, Emly, County Tipperary had pleaded not guilty to a total of nine summons relating to alleged offences at rented lands at Baggotstown, Bruff on dates in July 2005.
At a special sitting of Kilmallock District Court, state solicitor Aidan Judge said Mr Burke was convicted of the charges at Bruff District Court in 2006 but that the High Court later quashed the convictions and ordered a retrial.
The retrial, which began in January 2010, was stopped pending the outcome of further High Court proceedings.
Mr Judge said those proceedings were ultimately dismissed but that when Mr Burke “realised the game was up he fled to the UK”.
The defendant was arrested in January of this year after gardai executed a bench warrant after he returned from the UK.
Before the case was withdrawn, Garda Aoife Moran, gave evidence that she travelled to the lands at Baggotstown, Bruff on the morning on July 12, 2005 after neighbours complained about the smell of rotting animals.
She said when she arrived she found that around 900 sheep were being kept on 40 acres of land.
Garda Moran said she located the skeletal remains of six sheep and that she also came across the carcasses of three further sheep, which were “recently dead” and were covered in maggots and flies.
She told the court many of the 900 sheep she observed were thin and in a distressed state and that she believed the lands were “overcrowded”.
One sheep had to be freed from a makeshift feeder as it had become stuck she said.
Garda Moran said she established from her subsequent enquires that the lands in question were being rented by Mr Burke and she said she phoned him later that day.
She told the court he confirmed the sheep were his and indicated he would remove the dead carcasses immediately.
Cross-examining the witness, Mr Burke said he did not confirm to Garda Moran he owned the sheep but had admitted he was ‘involved’ with them.
Judge Aeneas McCarthy was told six days later, Garda Moran returned to the lands with an inspector from the Department of Agriculture.
She said the 900 ‘live’ sheep had been removed bar one which was found stuck in a ditch.
She said the six skeletal remains had also been removed but that the three carcases had been placed on a stack of hay and “partially” burned.
The witness said she was “100% certain” the carcasses were the same three cascasses she had seen on her first visit to the lands.
Mr Burke, who referred to himself in the third person throughout much of the proceedings, questioned how she could know they were the same carcasses as she is a “guard and not a farmer”.
Garda Moran agreed with him that she is “not an authority on farming” but said she saw what she saw.
During the course of his cross examination, which lasted for almost two hours, the defendant suggested there was no proof that he was the owner of the sheep apart from the phone call made by Garda Moran.
As the case was about to resume this Wednesday afternoon, Mr Judge informed the presiding judge that “developments had taken place” over the lunch break.
He said he had received instructions from the office of Director of Public Prosecutions to withdraw all of the charges before the court.
“The Director has decided it is not in the public interest to pursue this matter any further - the principal reason being the antiquity of the summons and the antiquity of the alleged offences committed by Mr Burke,” he said.
Noting Mr Judge’s application, Judge McCarthy dismissed each of the summonses.
There was no reaction from Mr Burke, who sat in the main body of the courtroom throughout the proceedings.