Young Enniscrone farmer denies he stole tractor saying it was gifted to him

A jury has failed to agree on a verdict in the case of an Enniscrone man, who went on a trial for allegedly stealing a tractor from a farmyard in west Sligo in 2021

he accused, James O’Dowd, (28) of Woodlands, Enniscrone was charged with stealing a Deutz tractor belonging to Judy Kilgannon on a date unknown between January 2 and January 3 last year at Patch, Dromore West.

He pleaded not guilty and the trail before Judge Catherine Staines took two and a half days at Sligo Circuit Court.

The seven man and five woman jury deliberated for four hours and 37 minutes.

The defendant was remanded on continuing bail until October 4 and was told by Judge Catherine Staines that he could be tried again.

Opening the prosecution case Leo Mulrooney BL (prosecuting) said the tractor was originally owned by Ms Kilgannon’s late brother Seamus Kilgannon, a bachelor farmer who passed away on October 14 2020.

The deceased did not make a will and Judy Kilgannon was the administrator as next of kin.

Mr Mulrooney added that on January 3 a tractor worth €15,500 was from a shed on the deceased’s farm, a shed rented by Dermot Kilgannon who is a cousin of the deceased.

Mr Mulrooney said that Dermot Kilgannon would say that he was in the shed until 6.30pm animals feeding and the tractor was in the shed on the day before the alleged incident.

He had taken a battery from the tractor, so it was immobilised. He went back to the shed the next day at 11 am only to find the tractor was gone.

The farm gates to the yard had been removed and hung back on and it was clear that they had been interfered with.

He told Judy Kilgannon and she informed gardaí and Garda Ronan O’Donnell from Enniscrone investigated.

On January 9 Garda O’Donnell saw the tractor outside the home of James O’Dowd in Enniscrone

The defendant made a cautioned voluntary statement. He claimed that on August 14 Seamus Kilgannon told him he was giving him the tractor “as a gift”.

And he also claimed the deceased had also given him the logbook for the tractor so that could be transferred and had signed the document.

On the day afterwards he sent off the documents to Shannon to have it registered to him, the court heard.

The defendant denied taking off the gates leading to the shed where the tractor was stored.

He said the reason he took the tractor was that it was given to hm as a gift by the deceased.

Mr Mulrooney added that the defendant had taken the tractor under cover of darkness.

On further investigation Garda O’Donnell got back some documents about the registration of the vehicle.

But the defendant told the garda that he had sent the documents off a month after the death of Seamus Kilgannon and not in August as he had previously claimed, in a subsequent statement.

The defendant said the reason he did not tell Judy Kilgannon about the tractor was that he knew that she would not believe that her brother had given him the tractor.

Garda O’Donnell told the court that he found the tractor at James O’Dowd’s home in Woodlawns Enniscone on January 9.

In a statement January 9 the defendant said the told him the told him he was giving tractor on August 14.

He said the deceased had the logbook signed and the defendant had to tax and in it.

On January 2 the defendant got the bus from Enniscrone and walked six miles from Dromore West to Seamus Kilgannon’s farm at Patch.

There was no battery in the tractor, so he put in one that was in the shed.

He did not tell Judy Kilgannon he was taking the tractor as she would not believe hm, but he believed it was his property.

Garda ODonnell spoke to Dermot Kilgannon who rented the shed from the deceased who said the gates were locked and there was no battery in the shed.

O’Dowd made a second statement on Mach 23 saying that the gates were open when he took away the tractor and he did not bring a battery but found a battery in the shed.

The statement added that he now wanted to give back the tractor as he did not want any trouble and that he should not have gone to the shed to take the tractor which was his property.

He added that the reason he was giving back the tractor was that he did not want to be falling out with anyone, did not want any more trouble and wanted to put the matter behind him.

He was later charged with theft at Tubbercurry District Court on May 26 and the tractor impounded.

Garda O’Donnell agreed under cross-examination from defense counsel Pat O’Sullivan BL, instructed by Morgan Coleman, Solicitor, that photographs taken by Sergeant Ken Foley did not show any damage to the gates.

Mr O’Sullivan wondered why the statements made by the defendant were not electronically recorded to remove all doubt.

The garda told him that voluntary cautioned statements were not electronically recorded. The court heard later that legally there was no onus on gardai to electronically record cautioned voluntary statements.

Mr O”Sullivan said that an electronically recorded statement would tell the jury exactly what happened as the defendant was a bit confused at the interviews. The court was told that it was not possible to clarify the authenticity of Seamus Kilgannon’s signature on the logbook for the tractor.

Judy Kilgannon told the court she lived in the townland of Townamore, Dromore West.

Her late brother Seamus Kilgannon lived five miles away and it was “the home place.”

She was the last of the family now alive and she said she knew him well.

She added that she was the administrator to her brother’s will, and she was not prepared for it as there was a house, land and machinery to be sorted out.

She recognized a photo of the Deutz tractor.

“He used to mend it and it was more or less a wreck and it cost him a lot and it was fixed in the shed”.

The court heard that Dermot Kilgannon had cattle in one of her brother’s sheds.

The witness said that after her brother’s death she continued the arrangement.

She said that Dermot Kilgannon rang her to tell the tractor was missing.

She contacted the gardaí.

She agreed under cross examination from Mr O”Sullivan that she had no involvement in the running of the farm and did not know of any arrangement her brother would have had with the defendant.

Dermot Kilgannon, who is a cousin of Judy Kilgannon’s said he had been renting a shed for cattle from the deceased since 2009, in Patch, Dromore West.

He said he had been working at the farm and left around 6.45-7pm on January 2.

When he came back around 11 am on January 3 the tractor was gone.

He said the first gate had been locked and the lock and chain had been changed around the second gate.

The witness said he had closed and locked the gates behind him on the previous evening.

He added that the chain was over the top of the gate which was not its usual place.

There was no damage to the padlock. The gate hangers had been bolted and put back on.

He added that he had never seen the tractor running and he had taken the battery from the tractor around November as there were two tractors in the yard and the battery had been stolen from the other tractor.

“So, I took out the new battery to stop the tractor from being stolen and driven away. “

Under cross-examination from Mr O”Sullivan, the witness said he was a cousin of Seamus Kilgannon and distantly related to James O’Dowd whom he only spoke to “about three times in my life”.

He said he had a good relationship with Seamus Kilgannon and did not accept that James O’Dowd was calling on Seamus Kilgannon on a regular basis and used to help around the house.

The witness said he was not of any agreement between the deceased and James O’Dowd.

He added that he thought such the deceased would have let him know if there had been any agreement.

He would occasionally have tea and biscuits with the dead and talked about farm matters.

When asked if James O’Dowd was a regular caller, the witness said the only time he saw him was on the day of Seamus Kilgannon’s funeral.

James O’Dowd told the court he was a second cousin once removed from the deceased and that they were very close, and he lived beside the deceased for a period. He said his father worked for Seamus Kilgannon so he was down there all the time when he was a child from the age of four onwards.

He said he he very good relationship with the deceased and helped him to bring bales of hay, and work with livestock and was driving his tractor from the age of 6-7 but did not drive on the road.

The defendant said he would call into the deceased’s house any chance he got and was also there on many weekends.

The defendant said the deceased gave him the logbook of the tractor on August 14 2020 and he felt happy and sad as he thought that this man was “a lot sicker than he was letting on”.

The defendant said the deceased said that from “day one that tractor was your tractor”.

He added that the deceased had the logbook signed when he gave it to him.

It was put to him that Garda O’Donnell had written down that the defendant had said that he had posted the logbook off the following day.

“I don’t recall saying I posted it the next day,” the defendant replied. He said that Seamus Kilgannon had given him the key of his tractor.

When asked why he waited until January to take the tractor, the defendant said he had to save money to pay for the tax and insurance.

When asked by Mr Mulrooney if he was surprised that Dermot Kilgannon had said the defendant did not have a close relationship with the deceased, he said he didn’t know.

He said he was distantly related to Dermot Kilgannon.

The defendant said he did not have a car at the time of death of Seamus Kilgannon.

The defendant said the tractor was valued at €5,000-€10,000 and he always believed the tractor would be left to him.

He insisted Seamus Kilgannon said he could have it any time as long as it was taxed and insured.

“So you were not waiting for him to die and so it is coincidental that his death did not make any difference,” said Mr Mulrooney.

The defendant denied that he waited until the passed away before getting the logbook sorted.

Mr Mulrooney said that as the defendant knew that Judy Kilgannon would not have believed that her brother had given the defendant the tractor, he went to take it under cover of darkness.

Mr Mulrooney added that if the defendant was as close to Seamus Kilgannon as he said, Judy Kilgannon would have been aware of the tractor transfer and would not be surprised by this gift.

The defendant replied:

“Not necessarily”.

He added: “Because Seamus had a partner and when he died she was told she could not stay in the house and Judy kicked her out of the house.”

Mr Mulrooney said that in the defendant’s second statement to Garda O’Donnell, the defendant said he regretted that he did not go to Judy and ask her for the tractor as he believed Seamus Kilgannon had wanted him to have it.

The statement added that he was prepared to sign the tractor back to Judy Kilgannon and wanted to put all of this behind him.

When Mr Mulrooney asked the defendant why did he want to give the vehicle back to Judy Kilgannon the defendant replied that he “he did not want to have to come to court”.

He added that he had gone to the funeral of Seamus Kilgannon and carried his coffin along with his own father and three others.

Mr O’Sullivan: “Did anyone ever say to you that it was not Seamus Kilgannon’s signature on the log book?”

The defendant replied, no.

The defendant went to the yard under cover of darkness in a secretive and furtive way and removed a valuable piece of property. The defendant said he had a legal right to the tractor, was the lawful owner and so he was just taking back his property.

Mr Mulrooney said this falls apart as the defendant said he had been given the tractor in August and Seamus Kilgannon died in October and he did not try to get the tractor until January.

Mr O”Sullivan submitted that the defendant gave the date and the time he had traveled on the bus from Ennicrone and it would have been very easy for the garda to contact the bus and see the CCTV that showed as actual proof that he had traveled on the bus.

But this was not done, and it would have shown clearly if he had a battery on the bus or not.

And the garda had no proof that the signature on the log book was not that of Seamus Kilgannon, he said.The defendant was taking his tractor and had it in full view of the public at his home in Enniscrone.

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