A CORK county councillor has been convicted of the lesser charge of careless driving after he transported four children unrestrained in a cattle box which was being pulled by his jeep while on their way to get chips.
Alan Coleman, who gave the address of Ballinacourtha, Belgooly, pleaded not guilty to a charge of dangerous driving at Bandon District Court.
Det Gda Martin Harrington told the court he was on duty on February 23rd last at Kinsale Garda Station when he received a call from a member of the public who was pulled in at the Circle K station in Riverstick.
‘He reported to me that a silver jeep drove onto the forecourt towing a cattle trailer with what appeared to be four children inside. The jeep had left by the time we got there but we were given the registration plate and called to an address in Belgooly, where it was registered,’ said Det Gda Harrington.
‘The jeep was parked in front of a large shed with a cattle trailer attached to it and both were empty. We then met with Mr Coleman who was in nearby shed and told him we were following up on a report made to us.’
A short voluntary caution memo was taken and Mr Coleman said he was taking his son and his neighbour’s children to get chips in Riverstick. The jeep belonged to his older son and he said he was insured to drive it and didn’t think it was reckless to transport them in the cattle box.
The court heard CCTV was downloaded from the Circle K service station, but it only showed the jeep driving into the forecourt.
Solicitor Ray Hennessy said he could not see how this amounted to a dangerous driving charge and that it was ‘way over the top’. He added that the State’s case is based ‘simply and solely’ on four children sitting on bales in a cattle box.
Giving evidence, Mr Coleman said that if he thought there was any danger posed to the four children he wouldn’t have left them in the cattle box. He said he drove very carefully and co-operated fully with the investigating gardaí.
‘While we were eating our chips in the shed, Det Gda Harrington asked me was I driving the jeep. I said I was and he cautioned me, but never mentioned about a complaint being made,’ said Mr Coleman.
The court heard that the matter was reported to the child protection agency, Tusla, but they were happy with the situation and said that there were no child protection concerns. Insp Emmet Daly put it to the defendant that he deliberately drove slowly as he knew it was a ‘high risk’ thing to be doing.
‘Dangerous driving doesn’t solely depend on speed and you drove slowly as you had four children in a cow box unrestrained. If something suddenly happened they would be thrown about inside,’ said Insp Daly.
Judge James McNulty said the case was not ‘far off’ from proving that dangerous driving took place and said it was ‘reckless and careless’ but convicted him on the lesser charge of careless driving.
‘Four children on loose bales is careless, very careless,’ said Judge McNulty.
The court heard that Mr Coleman has two previous road traffic convictions, while Judge McNulty said a conviction on dangerous driving which would carry a two-year disqualification would be ‘very awkward for a public representative.’
He convicted and fined him €1,000 and gave him 30 days to pay the fine, which would carry penalty points, but no disqualification.
‘It’s incumbent on him to set a good example. If he is unhappy he can appeal.’
Recognisances for an appeal were fixed in the defendant’s own bond of €100, with no cash required.