A SHEEP FARMER from Kinawley, who claimed to have lost up 1,000 of his flock, has been fined £3,000 after he was caught with hundreds of illegally imported sheep from the South.
Mark Thornton, 26, from Derrylin Road, Tonywall, pleaded guilty to two counts of bringing an animal into the North without a health certificate and one count of removing tags from the animals.
However, Thornton claimed that his lorry broke down as he was transferring the sheep to Dongeal and was keeping them in his field for a few days.
He alleged that he became known as a thief in the area after a press statement was released stating that the sheep had been stolen.
A prosecutor explained that on October 1, last year, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) sent an enforcement team to carry out sheep identification on his farm as the PSNI suggested he may have been involved with the illegal movement of the animals.
The team checked a flock of sheep which were registered to the defendant. However, they spotted 170 sheep that had been illegally imported which were grazing on his land and mixing freely with his own flock.
They also found another batch of illegal sheep from the South in a different field.
The court heard that health certification is required for importing and exporting animals to show they are healthy which guarantees their freedom from disease and the risk of catching a disease.
The following day, on October 2, the enforcement team resumed their inspections and found more illegal sheep while ear tags had been removed from two sheep.
On October 8, an illegal sheep movement was served on Thornton. When the team returned to verify the exact number of illegally moved sheep they could not find any as they had either been re-tagged or moved.
On October 21, the defendant said he became aware that 420 of his sheep were missing from his farm in Kinawley while two days later he went to his farm in Liscoole, Enniskillen where 339 sheep were missing. He also reported that 227 sheep were missing from his farm land in the Five Points area and subsequently made an insurance claim for loss of sheep.
Then on November 11, the control enforcement team completed an inspection of his flock to determine the origin status and the exact number of his flock.
Thornton and his solicitor went to an interview with agriculture officers where they asked several questions but he made no admissions to the alleged offences.
The accused told officers that he recovered all his missing sheep and was no longer pursuing the insurance claim.
District Judge Nigel Broderick remarked how the defendant had found almost 1,000 missing sheep.
The court also heard that Thornton has a 51 per cent share of stock in a farm which holds between 300 to 500 sheep.
Defence solicitor John Fahy explained to the court that the sheep were off-loaded on his land for welfare reasons.
“The sheep came from Dingle in Co Kerry and other locations in that county and were travelling towards Donegal.
“You can transit these animals through Fermanagh to do this. The lorry broke down and it was towed to the location where he had land.
“He was annoyed that a press release was issued saying that the sheep had been stolen and he became known as a villain and a thief. The defendant was transporting the sheep and he did not contact the department to inform the authorities and this is where he falls.
“He is a very industrious young man and has a flock of up to 1,000. He is determined to put this behind him and he accepts the offences.”
Judge Broderick said he was sceptical of the story and that he would not be sent to jail because the offences do not carry a custodial sentence.
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