Belfast Telegraph

Farmer jailed for using digger to ram cars over dispute with his ex-wife

By Staff Reporter

A farmer who used his digger to attack two cars after losing 50 acres of land in an acrimonious divorce has been jailed for nine months.

Patrick Gerard Donnelly (59) didn't want his ex-wife to sell the land and when a prospective buyer and a surveyor went to look at it, he rammed their cars with his JCB. He then used the vehicle's mechanical arm to smash in the roof of one vehicle and overturn the other.

He pleaded guilty at Fermanagh Court to unlawfully assaulting George Bleakley and damaging or destroying his Nissan Terrano. He also admitted destroying or damaging a Vauxhall Astra belonging to Geoffrey Fleming.

Donnelly, of Old Junction Road, Cabragh, Irvinestown, was banned from driving for 18 months and ordered to pay Mr Bleakley and Mr Fleming £5,000 each in compensation. He was released on bail pending an appeal against the prison sentence.

A prosecutor told the court that last December 12, police received a report that two cars had been attacked by a JCB-type digger in a field at Old Junction Road. Officers arrived to find the vehicles had been extensively damaged. They arrested Donnelly who told them: "I did nothing wrong."

However, the court heard that when interviewed by police, Donnelly admitted using his digger to damage the cars. He told them he knew why the men were at the farm and that "come hell or high water" he was determined to get them off his land.

The prosecutor said Donnelly had recently lost a third of the family farm in a divorce settlement.

Deputy District Judge Paul Conway asked why Donnelly had not been charged with dangerous driving, given that he had "used a tractor as a weapon".

He also asked why he shouldn't put Donnelly in prison and disqualify him from driving. Defence solicitor Tommy Owens said Donnelly was on his own and wouldn't be able to get anyone else to look after the farm and animals.

He said Donnelly was only driving at 2mph or 3mph when he rammed the cars. He suffers from depression and alcoholism and was drinking and taking medication at the time of the offences.

The Deputy District Judge described it as "not only a violent and destructive crime but a dangerous crime". He said the pre-sentence report by a probation officer made reference to the fact that Donnelly had previously used a tractor to cause criminal damage.

The court was shown photographs of one of the cars lying on its side with the windscreen smashed and the other with its windscreen smashed and roof staved in. Mr Owens conceded: "It would be no understatement to say he lost control of himself."

The Deputy District Judge asked him if he could imagine "the amount of fear it would have caused?" He jailed Donnelly for nine months, banned him from driving for 18 months and ordered him to pay compensation totalling £10,000. Donnelly was released on bail and granted permission to drive pending appeal.

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