THE case against a 62-year-old woman who was convicted of causing criminal damage on the land of her deceased neighbour has been dealt with by way of a conditional discharge.
Judge James McNulty at Bantry District Court ordered ‘no conviction’ after taking into account a submission made by the accused’s solicitor Luke O’Donovan about the ‘minor nature’ of the damage caused by Sioned Jones of Maughanaclea, Kealkil, Bantry on March 28th 2020.
The accused and her solicitor contested the charge on the basis that she was replacing a memorial tree that had died with a live tree and she could not, in law, be found guilty of causing criminal damage to another person’s property.
She said she had planted the Birch tree in 2017, but it died. She claimed she was, on this occasion, ‘taking responsibility for its maintenance’ by clearing briars and planting a new tree in memory of her former neighbour on his own land.
The court was told that Sioned Jones was previously prosecuted for cutting down spruce trees and replacing them with deciduous trees.
On this occasion, proceedings were issued 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.
In evidence, a garda witness said he saw ‘stumps’ and some freshly dug holes in the ground when he inspected the land following Tim Kelleher’s complaint.
Tim Kelleher admitted he didn’t see the trees being cut down, but he said he saw ‘a stump and it was freshly cut.’
In evidence, Sioned Jones challenged the prosecution to produce photographic evidence of the stumps. She claimed they could not because there were none. She said she hadn’t cut anything down.
‘There isn’t a shred of evidence,’ she said. ‘I planted a deciduous tree to replace the Birch that had failed.’
Luke O’Donovan submitted that his client’s actions were ‘on the lowest possible rung of the scale’ and that his client had been ‘attempting to make the world a better place.’
Judge McNulty said the damage, even if it were not malicious, was ‘wilful’ and that Sioned Jones had no regard for boundaries. However, he imposed a conditional discharge and placed the accused on a bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for the next two years.