In an incident described as 'utmost lunacy', a man stole a €25,000 digger by driving it 3km to his home in Longford town at 3 mp/hr during the early hours of the morning before attempting to hide it in his back garden, a court has heard.
Gardaí spotted the yellow New Holland excavator from a property located close to Fergal Gannon (38), Ferafad, Longford, Co Longford after the carer had left it at the rear of his home in the wake of taking it from a layby on the Ardagh Road barely 48 hours previously.
Mr Gannon’s own defence barrister, Raymond Groarke BL conceded his client’s actions were akin to “bordering on the ridiculous” given that investigators were also able to identify track marks along the road which indicated where the digger had travelled along.
Mr Gannon appeared at a sitting of Longford Circuit Criminal Court last week after earlier pleading guilty to an incident which occurred at Ferafad, Ardagh Road, Longford on a date unknown between January 15, 2021 and January 18, 2021.
State counsel Shane Geraghty BL said the digger stolen by Mr Gannon was being used at the time by a sub contractor to Irish Water.
Prosecuting Garda Linda O'Connell said it had been officially reported missing by its owner shortly after 9am on January 18 2021.
The court was told the key to the digger had been with its owner, but that when Mr Gannon gained access to it at around 3:30am two days previously, he told gardaí of coming across another key which was used to start the machine.
A key plank in the prosecution's case, it was revealed, centred on CCTV which had been sourced from a neighbour of the accused man.
That showed the digger in question being driven towards Mr Gannon's property before seconds later turning in at the back of the accused man's residence.
Gardaí, the court heard, carried out house to house enquiries only hours after the incident with three detectives calling to and speaking to Mr Gannon at his front door.
Mr Geraghty said the accused man lied to the three plain clothes officers by telling them he had been at his girlfiend's house in Edgeworthstown at the time the digger was allegedly stolen.
Garda O'Connell said it was when gardaí were in a yard next door to Mr Gannon's that the digger could be seen left in a hole and parked in front of a mound of earth.
She said it was at that stage Mr Gannon emerged from and invited gardaí to return to his property.
A voluntary statement was taken from Mr Gannon who was arrested shortly afterwards when officers found the machine's serial number matched that of the stolen digger.
Mr Geraghty said during interview, Mr Gannon “fabricated a story” to claim he had in fact been awoken by the sound of dogs.
He told gardaí when he went to inspect what the commotion was, he claimed seeing a jeep bearing Northern Ireland registration plates carrying a trailer and hearing a “load bang” as the jeep suddenly took off.
In quoting extracts from his interview with gardaí, Mr Geraghty said Mr Gannon maintained the digger had been left in the middle of the road and for “safe keeping” moved the track machine to the back of his house with a view to returning it ahead of work recommencing at the site on Monday.
Mr Gannon said the reason why the digger was not returned was because he had spent most of the day in bed watching TV due to feeling unwell.
Garda O'Connell said the defendant had insisted he was in fact “doing a favour” by taking the digger in off the road.
“He said he was going to return it on the Saturday morning, but no one was there and then he said he felt unwell on the Monday which is why he didn't go up,” she said.
The court heard Mr Gannon was asked why he didn't go to the Gardaí and come clean, a question that led the accused to state: “I know how it looked with my previous history and knowledge of machinery.”
The court heard Mr Gannon had 12 previous convictions for theft and burglary.
Mr Groarke, acting for Mr Gannon termed his client's behaviour as an act of “utmost lunacy”. Judge Johnson, at that juncture, drew laughter around the courtroom by calling into question Mr Gannon's decision making.
“It's fair to say, he didn't cover his tracks,” he said.
Mr Groarke agreed, saying his client's level of preparation left a lot to be desired.
“This wasn't a high speed, high end getaway that involved a high level of planning,” he said.
The court was further informed the reason Mr Gannon was able to start the digger was because the machine's ignition was worn, meaning any machinery key could have been used to set its engine in motion.
Mr Groarke went on to contend another motive for Mr Gannon's decision to steal the digger was because the accused needed to deal with sewage issues at his home.
Mr Groarke said Mr Gannon was arguably not thinking clearly at the time and had “gone off the rails” when his son was taken off him and put into State care.
In highlighting Mr Gannon's long standing history of substance abuse and attempts to re-engage with psychiatric services, Mr Groarke said he was also a full time carer to his brother.
“He is ashamed and embarrassed at his behaviour and is acutely aware of the consequences of his actions,” said Mr Groarke.
Despite that, Mr Groarke appealed for the court to apply leniency and asked for his client to be kept under the watchful eye of the probation services in an attempt to “keep him on the straight and narrow.”
Judge Johnson, in his summation, said the episode was an “attack on legitimate businesses” and only served to “undermine the trust on which rural society is built”.
Judge Johnson said he would be seeking a probation report to determine Mr Gannon's suitability for community service and an offer of compensation to be made.
If found suitable, Judge Johnson advised Mr Gannon he faced completing 240 hours of community service in lieu of a possible suspended sentence.
An offer of €1,500 to the Longford branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association was also deemed appropriate ahead of Mr Gannon's scheduled reappearance in court on May 17, 2022.
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