The judge hearing a case involving a man who pleaded guilty to harassment and criminal damage found that the victim had “grossly exaggerated” her claims and he assumed it was “to set this unfortunate man up for some form of significant claim.”
Judge Kevin Kilrane paused the court to visit the location of the disputed piece of land to see for himself the issues regarding a piece of land, fencing, walls and a hedge.
Appearing before Carrick-on-Shannon District Court last Friday was Dermot McLoughlin, Station Road, Cortober, Carrick-on- Shannon, Co Roscommon who pleaded guilty to criminal damage to estate fencing, mature hedging, a wooden fence, ground at the entrance to a field, stone walls and stone capping, to the value of €16,375, on dates unknown between March 24 and March 31, 2019, belonging to Catherine Vaughan, Hartley House, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim.
He also pleaded guilty to damaging fencing to the value of €435 belonging to Catherine Vaughan on May 18, 2020.
He further pleaded guilty to harassment of Catherine Vaughan on dates between March 24, 2019 and June 13, 2020.
Detective Garda Brian McMahon gave evidence of questioning Mr McLoughlin on four occasions for a total of between 18 and 20 hours on foot of a complaint by Ms Vaughan.
The court heard the matter arose out of a dispute about a right of way Mr McLoughlin believed he had across her land. Det Garda McMahon said Ms Vaughan told Mr McLoughlin it was her piece of land and he had no right of way over it.
During one of the interviews Mr McLoughlin told detectives that it was his right of way. However, he agreed under caution that he did not legally go about enforcing the right of way.
Post and rail fencing had been damaged by the defendant. Ms Vaughan was claiming damages of €16,375 excluding VAT as was itemised by an engineer on her behalf.
In relation to the harassment charge, solicitor for Mr McLoughlin, Kieran Ryan, put it to Det Garda McMahon that all but two of the charges were during daylight hours.
There was one indent at 11pm and one at 3.30am captured on CCTV. Mr Ryan said all the other occasions involved him getting access to his lands and his cattle during daylight hours.
Det Garda McMahon said that from March 2019 to June 2020 Ms Vaughan would say Mr McLoughlin never had livestock on that property. There was two or three animals put on the land and removed after a couple of days.
Mr McLoughlin declined to have a solicitor present during the interviews. He told the Gardai on July 16, 2020 that it wasn't intentional by him, it was an emotional response, an instinctive thing and he was sorry for the two incidents.
Mr McLoughlin said he was just “pissed off” she was blocking his right of way and if he could meet her they would try and sort it out.
He said it was never about intimidating her, it was only to get access to farm the land and he apologised for his actions.
He said there was no sight lines at an other entrance into the field and that was why he used this disputed entrance. He has since applied for planning permission for an alternative entrance.
Det Garda McMahon said there was no disputing that Mr McLoughlin has used the entrance for the last 20 or 30 years but that all changed when Ms Vaughan took ownership of Hartley House.
Mr Ryan said effectively Mr McLoughlin went the wrong way about it. Det Garda McMahon agreed.
Mr Ryan told Judge Kilrane there was a plea to the criminal damage but the amount being claimed was in dispute. Judge Kilrane said the disputed claim meant the case was “trespassing into civil law.”
Catherine Vaughan said the criminal damage was done within two or three weeks of her moving in. The area of ground was dug up and a load of stone was dumped there.
She said she would repair the railings that were removed, he would come back and do it again and she would repair it again. She then got some stones and put them at the gate to stop him crossing the ground and he would remove them. She said that could have happened up to 19 times.
In March 2019 she said the fence was completely dug up and a roadway was built across it. She was shocked to see her 3m laurel hedge was damaged and the old wrought iron rail was mangled and twisted and all the ground was dug up. She also claimed damage to walls and capping. She said she had to pay to get the hedge repaired.
Ms Vaughan said Mr McLoughlin never had any cattle in the field nor baled hay. She said he would come up to the field and look through the hedge and walk up and down. She said Mr McLoughlin brought a vintage tractor and parked it in the field and said he would come up at night and start it up and drive it up and down the field without lights on for 40 minutes to an hour.
Ms Vaughan said she has worked in the construction industry for 30 years as a plant manager. She said when she purchased the house there were no rights of way on it.
Mr Ryan said his client accepted he was wrong but he did not accepted her claim for €16,375. She said she had been very fair in this, admitting the fence needed maintenance. She said the total included landscaping and engineering services.
She said because of Mr McLoughlin's behaviour since she moved in, she can no longer live in her house and can't operate her guest house business or make a living.
Mr Ryan put it to her that her estimate was “totally inflated” and was being used to penalise Mr McLoughlin.
Ms Vaughan said Mr McLoughlin told her he would give up the right of way if she dropped the charges. She said it was the DPP that was taking the case, not her.
Ms Vaughan then read her victim impact statement in court in which she detailed Mr McLoughlin's “erratic” behaviour. She said he came back time and time again and his “relentless bullying” caused her unnecessary stress and worry, leaving her feeling uneasy and nervous. She accused Mr McLoughlin of dragging out the case with lengthy adjournments.
Dermot McLoughlin accepted he took the law into his own hands but said he only ever wanted to live in harmony with his neighbour and he never wanted to cause her any harm. He apologised for traversing her piece of ground and said he had been using it since 1982. Mr McLoughlin said he had tried his utmost to get the matter solved.
Judge Kevin Kilrane, in summing up , said he was glad that he had visited the location in question as he described it as “a complicated matter.”
He said the layout of the property is that there is a section of grassed-over ground immediately before Ms Vaughan's house that belongs to her and is the dividing ground between the two lands. In order for Mr McLoughlin to enter his land he had to traverse two or three metres of this ground to gain access.
She said there were timbers surrounding that green area, about a foot and a half off the ground with horizontal timbers.
Mr McLoughlin sought to enforce a right of access to and egress from his field. He said she took objection to it.
Mr McLoughlin removed the timbers and threw them to the side and went in across the green area and through the gate.
She had the timbers replaced, he removed them again, she replaced them and he removed them again. He described this as “a type of battle on the ground” between the parties.
Judge Kilrane said Mr McLoughlin, in hindsight, should not have gone down that route and should instead have instructed his solicitor to start proceedings about the right of way.
He said Mr McLoughlin behaved rather badly by coming around at 3am and removing the timbers and throwing away stones that had been placed there by Ms Vaughan.
“It is clear Mr McLoughlin is wrong in damaging that fencing,” he said.
Judge Kilrane said the remainder of the fencing was in a terrible state of disrepair and still is and is “eaten with rot.”
He said the stone wall was not damaged as was claimed and there was no evidence of any markings on the posts.
He also viewed the laurel hedge and the metal fence described by her as 'stately rails.' He said her evidence in regard to the rails was “completely and utterly unbelievable” and a “complete exaggeration.”
Judge Kilrane said the stately metal railing was “completely and utterly beyond repair” and was “rusting into the ground.”
He said she claimed that her irreplaceable fence was damaged beyond repair but it was damaged beyond repair to start with, he stated.
“It's a mess and was always a mess,” he said, and added there wasn't an ironmonger in the country that could do anything with it.
He described her evidence as not only being “incorrect” but that it was also “an extreme exaggeration” that undermined all of her evidence.
“I cannot believe her evidence after seeing what I saw and after hearing what I heard in her victim impact statement,” he said.
He said the capping on the stone wall up the avenue is covered in moss, indicating this was the case for some time. Her advice was that it needed to be repaired urgently and he asked why it hadn't already been done and said if there was any damage to the wall it was not recent.
Regarding the laurel hedge, he said there was no damage to it and there was no satisfactory evidence the hedge was repaired. At the back of the house, he said he inspected the wall and saw no damage to it.
He said there is nothing about the case other than exaggeration and compensation and that was what was driving the case.
He said he listened to the victim impact statement and he was “completely unimpressed by it.” He said it was “stitched with exaggeration.”
Judge Kilrane said Mr McLoughlin owns the land next door and is entitled to use his land, although he may not be entitled to enter it via the ground in question.
He said Ms Vaughan mentioned him peering through he hedge at 11.30 at night and he questioned how could she see someone peering through her hedge at that time.
“The case is entirely exaggerated and I can only assume it is to set this unfortunate man up for some form of significant claim,” he said.
Judge Kilrane said there was no reason why Ms Vaughan could not carry on with her business. He said the house is in wonderful condition and everything looks well, including the laurel hedge.
“The entire case is about one single issue. Mr McLoughlin entered this gateway and she decided he was going to pay for it. She embarked on a campaign of criminal proceedings and the exaggeration heard in court,” he said.
Judge Kilrane said the courts are directed now to punish anyone in damages who exaggerates their claim.
He said the claim for the metal 'stately rails' was a fake claim “to take money from this man.”
He said Mr McLoughlin must pay for the damage to the timbers and he directed he pay €1,200 to the victim and applied the Probation Act in regard to the charges of criminal damage.
With regard to the harassment charge, he said he didn't consider Mr McLoughlin driving his tractor around the field as intimidation.
He said Ms Vaughan went on “in a most poisoned way in her victim impact statement, which I thought would never end,” to deal with Mr McLoughlin and the bad person he is and that he wouldn't come to court.
He said Mr McLoughlin did take down the timbers and threw the stones to one side, but he didn't consider that intimidation. He said the worst aspect of it was the 3am visit to the property, but it was away from her house and out of ear shot and but for the CCTV cameras she wouldn't have seen it, he said.
Judge Kilrane said people are entitled to drive their tractors in their field as the humour takes them. He again said it was exaggeration on her part that this was driving her out of her house.
On the charge of harassment he ordered Mr McLoughlin to pay €500 to Drumshanbo Tidy Towns and applied the Probation Act.
Inspector Mick Collins told Judge Kilrane the DPP had sought an order under the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act (that a person not approach or communicate with another person). Judge Kilrane declined to make the order.
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