WHEN a local farmer went to investigate noises in his barn during the early hours of the morning, he found a ‘blind’ man wearing a balaclava, a veterinary inspection glove and carrying a wooden brush shaft.
This “bizarre and unusual” case was heard before Omagh Crown Court last week when Anthony Morris (44), of Bradkeel Road, Plumbridge, faced a charge of intending to cause damage to cattle. Morris also had a torch strapped to his head and was carrying a piece of rope.
He attempted to hide himself when the farmer, a former employer of Morris, and his brother entered the barn at 2am in the morning. However, they managed to drag Morris over the top of a cattle pen and pin him down on silage while they waited for police to arrive.
While he was being held, the intruder spoke in a ‘foreign accent’ saying, “Me-me-steal-ear-tags. Me-me-look-at-tags.”
Police officers arrived at the scene and removed the balaclava to reveal Morris who had worked for the farmer in the past.
He was wearing a body warmer that he stole from the farmer’s lorry a number of weeks earlier and was also carrying a penknife.
The farmer recognised his body warmer due to the presence of sheep’s wool under a piece of Velcro on its left side, stains on the collar and a faulty zipper.
In a day-long trial, described by a defence barrister as a “strange and unusual case,” Morris was found guilty of possessing a pen knife, an inspection glove, a wooden shaft and a piece of blue rope with the intent of causing damage to cattle, as well as stealing a body warmer and a Solar calculator that was in its pocket.
Morris was originally questioned about ‘cruelty to animals.’ However, none of the cattle in the barn were injured and it was not stated in Omagh Crown Court what he specifically intended to do to the animals.
During the trial he walked with the aid of a stick and claimed to be totally blind in one eye and partially sighted in the other. Morris said that he can only see “black blobs” and was diagnosed with limited sight in 2005.
However during the trial it emerged that he had a collision on his motorbike in 2008.
In an attempt to explain his presence in the barn, Morris claimed that a man he described as “a blast from the past”, whom he hadn’t seen in 17 years, came to his house in the early hours of March 18 last year, and forced him to go to the barn with him.
He said the man told him that the farmer who owned the barn had stolen three of his cows.
Morris, however, refused to reveal the identity of the man, and in an interview read to the jury of six men and six women he said to investigating police officers, “I felt the b******d would take my f*****g head off.”
He also claimed that the man threatened to harm his 14-year-old son.
Morris further claimed that he told the man there was no way the farmer would have stolen the cattle and described him as “straight as a gun barrel.”
THREATENED WITH A GUN
Under cross-examination by prosecution barrister Michael McAleer, the defendant added, “I knew the history of this man who made me go to the barn. He touched me with something metal.”
Mr McAleer asked, “Are you going to tell us what it was?”
Morris replied, “No.”
The barrister then asked, “Was it a stick? A bar? A coat hanger?”
Morris responded, “It wasn’t a coat hanger.”
The barrister then asked whether the metal was a gun.
Morris replied, “It was a gun. On May 17, 1995 this person (the man) starts the way he always starts; slobbering, saying what he’s going to do. I put him on the ground with a knuckle duster and I got three years.”
Morris was adamant that he did not intend harming the cattle. He stressed that he was forced to go to the barn in a car with the mystery man to check the tags on the cattle.
None of the witnesses or police saw a man or a car in the area of the farm that morning.
The jury took approximately one hour to reach their verdict. They found Morris guilty on both counts.
It was then revealed that he has an extensive criminal record, with convictions for burglary, firearms, six theft offences and road traffic violations.
He will be sentenced in Derry Crown Court on April 17.
Morris was allowed to remain on bail but was warned by Judge Phillip Babington, “You should not take that as an indication of what will happen to you.”