A MAN accused of stealing six jars of honey from a market stall in Skibbereen offered to pay the €42 he owed, but he declined to pay €300 by way of ‘amends’ to the owner.
The accused, John Delee (52) of Coornishal, Skibbereen, was legally represented at Skibbereen District Court by Ray Hennessy and both men vigorously denied the allegation that Delee committed theft at the old mart yard on September 5th 2020.
In evidence for the prosecution, the stall holder Ita O’Shea said the accused – who had bought honey from her once before – put six jars of honey into his rucksack and then said something about going to the ATM.
‘He was gone before I had time to do anything,’ she said, but he subsequently rang to say he had lost his wallet.
She gave evidence of having texted the accused that evening – including a note saying she had asked the market manager in Skibbereen to keep an eye out for his lost wallet.
The witness said there was no response from John Delee that evening, and no response to a follow-up text the next day.
A subsequent arrangement was made to meet at the market but the accused didn’t turn up and later sent a text saying he’d had Covid.
The witness said she took advice from the gardaí and asked the accused to leave the money in an envelope with her name on it at the garda station in Skibbereen, but it never materialised.
‘As a last resort,’ the witness said she made a formal complaint and gave Gda Carol Ward a statement about the incident.
In a statement that he made to gardaí, John Delee said that had told Ita O’Shea his wallet was missing and she replied ‘no problem’ as he took the honey to his car to search for it.
He said this was not stealing because she had given him permission to take them away while he carried out the search.
John Delee said his car was parked some distance away at the West Cork Hotel.
When he discovered his wallet wasn’t in the car he phoned the stall owner and said he’d pay for the honey ‘next week.’
‘On the day, I wasn’t myself,’ he told the court in reference to concerns he had about his mother’s medical condition and care.
He said he went to the market on September 12th and the accused wasn’t there.
However, he alleged that the stall owner was ‘rude and aggressive’ to him on the phone and accused him of stealing.
In cross examination by Insp Debra Marsh, John Delee acknowledged that he was asked to leave the money into the garda station but said he didn’t do that because he was ‘upset and annoyed at the way the situation was handled.’ He alleged that Ita O’Shea called him ‘a nasty gangster’ and he said he felt his character had been ‘decimated’ by her.
Judge James McNulty rebuked the accused for using the witness box to malign the stall holder and ‘attempt a retrospective justification’ for his actions.
He convicted the accused and asked him if he would be willing to pay €300 to the witness as amends for the amount of time she had to spend on this matter, as well as the indignity of giving evidence in a criminal matter in the district court.
‘This is not a theft situation,’ Ray Hennessy insisted. And the accused was adamant, ‘I did not steal the honey.’
Judge McNulty pointed out that the stall holder gave the accused an opportunity to ‘leave it at the garda station for me.’
He said it conveyed the message that if the money was paid that would be the end of the matter.
When the accused told the court he had worked for a long number of years in retail management, and as a buyer, in the UK, the judge put it to him, ‘In all your years in High Street retail in the UK, have you ever experienced a person packing goods into a bag on the promise that they would come back to pay?’
The accused said he had never encountered that.
John Delee, who was granted free legal aid to contest the case, offered to pay the €42, but rejected the opportunity to make amends.
He also said he was not happy with the court’s decision and Mr Hennessy indicated that the case, once finalised, might be appealed to the circuit court.
The accused was convicted of the offence but penalty was deferred to the December 14th sitting. Judge McNulty said, ‘It will give Mr Delee plenty of time to reflect.’