A local farmer has expressed his frustration after a man convicted of stealing a £45,000 tractor during a major raid on his farm in August 2016 walked from Omagh Courthouse on Tuesday.
Scott Johnston (23) of Reaghan Road, Dunmullan, Omagh escaped jail time despite pleading guilty to the serious theft of the New Holland tractor on August 11 2016 from David Alexander’s farm at Tarlum Road, Gillygooley.
Sitting judge Michael Ranaghan, who was appointed as a judge in September, imposed a six month prison sentence, but opted to suspend the term for two years after hearing submission’s from Johnston’s defence counsel. The tractor, which was recovered after a tip off to the Alexanders following a social media appeal, was stolen during a raid on the Gillygooley farm over August 10-11 2016.
A Nissan Navara pick-up and a trailer filled with various tools, fuel and items of equipment, worth up to £2,000 were also taken.
Omagh Magistrates Court heard on Tuesday that the blue tractor had been spotted on the A5 road at Gortaclare on evening of August 11 2016, some hours after it was reported stolen. The court heard the vehicle was followed to nearby Rock Road.
The tools and fuel have never been recovered. However the Nissan Navara was later found after being crashed in the Dunmullan area of Omagh.
Mr Alexander confirmed that the vehicle had been “wrecked” and was declared a ‘write-off’ by the insurance company.
On Tuesday, Brian Harkin (37), with an address on the Whitebridge Road, near Carrickmore, was handed 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a single charge of taking Mr Alexander’s Nissan Navara without permission on August 11 2016.
The background detail of the case was not read to Omagh Magistrates Court on Tuesday by the public prosecutor, however Harkin’s defence solicitor
Michael Fahy recounted that his client had been located after DNA was found on the vehicle’s steering wheel.
He claimed Harkin had attempted to assist in starting the vehicle after the clutch was severely damaged.
Mr Fahy said the defendant had been unemployed for a number of years and was unable to re-enter the workplace due to a back injury.
The court heard that Harkin had informed the Probation Service that his injury could affect his ability to perform community service with a physical element.
An 80 hour community service order was imposed by Judge Ranaghan, however he said he wouldn’t impose a fine in light of Harkin’s circumstances.
It’s understood that a relative of Harkin is currently in a relationship with Scott Johnston.
However reacting to the sentence on Tuesday, the victim, David Alexander described the outcome as “devastating”.
“Justice is not justice,” he said. “It was a very stressful time.”
The dairy and pig farmer, who now resides in Lack, recalled how he watched on CCTV as the haul of vehicles and machinery were driven away from the farm.
“They took a wee trailer with a heap of stuff, they stole diesel and whatever they could get sitting around the yard, then they went down the lane in a convoy. We sat and watched them on the camera, but it was just one of those things, there was nothing I could do about it.
“At that particular time things were terrible,” he said.
“I think it was very lenient. That somebody can come in and do that to you, put you under that much stress – I didn’t get compensated for what I lost.”
A third male charged by police investigating the theft on August 11 2016 is due before the court this month. However he has not been charged with any theft offences.