A BANTRY woman who was previously prosecuted for cutting down spruce trees and replacing them with deciduous trees was at Bantry District Court again – this time charged with criminal damage on the land of her deceased neighbour.
Sioned Jones of Maughnaclea, Kealkil, Bantry, denied a charge that she damaged spruce trees on March 28th 2020.
She and her solicitor, Luke O’Donovan, fought the criminal damage charge.
It was their contention that if she planted the previous tree, and was on this occasion replacing it with a live tree, she could not be found guilty of causing criminal damage to another person’s property.
The charge was brought against Sioned Jones after Tim Kelleher, the executor of his late brother’s estate, called the gardaí and gave evidence that two or three Spruce trees had been cut down.
Gda Martin Hanley went to the land with the executor and they said they saw the stumps, some freshly dug holes in the ground, as well as Sioned’s shovel, and they photographed the area.
Tim Kelleher gave evidence that Sioned Jones was on the property constantly.
He claimed his late brother was ‘tortured’ and ‘harassed’ by her. He said his brother felt intimidated by her and was ultimately ‘afraid to go in there.’
He alleged that the cutting of trees – which were about eight years old and about 6ft in height – would affect the payments made to the farm.
In reply to a question put to him by Judge James McNulty, the accused said the plantation is not monitored by satellite but it is inspected regularly.
‘You are allowed a certain amount of natural wastage,’ he said, but any more than that and the payments could be cut.
Tim Kelleher admitted he didn’t see the trees being cut down, but he said he saw ‘a stump and it was freshly cut.’
When Sioned Jones was giving evidence in her own defence she challenged the gardaí to produce photographs of the stumps.
She said there were none because she hadn’t cut anything down.
After the initial court case was dealt with – a matter that the accused acknowledged was her ‘overstepping the mark’ – Sioned Jones said Johnny Kelleher had given her permission to be on the land.
She claimed they had made their peace and ‘every time I saw him I apologised to him and we shook hands.’
‘I had planted the Birch tree in 2017, but it subsequently died,’ she said. ‘I was taking responsibility for its maintenance.’
She said she cleared briars and planted the new tree in memory of Johnny on his own land.
‘I didn’t commit any offence on March 28th,’ she added. ‘I didn’t cut any Spruce.
‘There isn’t a shred of evidence. I planted a deciduous tree to replace the Birch that had failed.’
The defendant’s solicitor also argued, ‘No one has seen her damage any trees. There is no evidence of an offence.’
But Judge McNulty held that the accused had ‘no business’ being on the land even if it was to replace a sapling.
He said the Court was satisfied that Sioned Jones had damaged the property by removing trees, a failed sapling, and briars.
Luke O’Donovan submitted that such actions were ‘on the lowest possible rung of the scale’ and that his client had been ‘attempting to make the world a better place.’
But Judge McNulty said the accused’s behaviour was ‘part of a pattern.’
He said the time had come for Sioned Jones to learn she is not free to trespass on the property of others.
He convicted the accused, who has 19 previous convictions, most of which were for drug related offences, but deferred the imposition of penalty to the February 2022 sitting of Bantry District Court.
The Court was told there was a matter of a suspended sentence and whether or not it is to be reactivated.
Regardless of the outcome, Sioned Jones told the judge she would appeal the conviction.