Donegal farmer serving ten year animal ban accused of handling sheep and dog

December 6, 2023

A farmer who was banned from keeping animals for a decade has appeared in court again accused of handling or controlling a dog and sheep.

Leslie Stewart appeared at Letterkenny District Court charged with three different offences at lands in Letterkenny.

The 75-year-old is charged with keeping, controlling or handling a collie dog and also a sheep and two lambs on separate occasions in October, 2022 and also in April of this year.

It follows a decision by a Judge in September of 2022 to ban Stewart from keeping animals for a period of ten years.

Stewart was found guilty by Judge Éiteáin Cunningham of a number of charges after animal welfare officers called to his farm at The Thorn outside Letterkenny on various dates.

He had already served a two year ban and received a suspended jail sentence imposed by Judge Paul Kelly in 2016 after ISPCA officers and vets found several horses and donkeys starving on his property.

Officers continued to monitor Stewart and on further dates between May, 2019 and April, 2021, they found animals in various states of distress as a result of Stewart’s cruelty.

On one occasion the carcasses of dead sheep were found on his lands with dogs nearby.

He was also charged with keepings pigs in a trailer without enough water, keeping dogs in a van without water and keeping poultry in a small locked trailer without water.

Judge Cunningham described the case as “horrendous” and “disturbing” and as well as banning him from keeping animals for a further ten years, she fined him €1,500.

On this occasion, Stewart is accused on two separate instances between the 4th and 28th of October, 2022, at The Thorn, Letterkenny, he kept, or had charge or control of an animal, to wit a collie dog, in breach of the disqualification order dated 4th October, 2022 and contrary to section 58(8) of the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013.

He is also charged that on April 9th, 2023, at or near The Glebe, Letterkenny, had charge or control of animals, to wit a sheep and two lambs, in breach of the disqualification order dated October 4th, 2022 and contrary to section 58(8) of the Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2013.

The charges and details were outlined by barrister for the Department of Agriculture, Ms Helen Johnson, BL.

She outlined how witnesses had seen Stewart at both locations interacting with animals including on one occasion “wrestling” with a sheep and two lambs to load them onto a trailer.

Solicitor for the accused, Mr Kieran O’Gorman, said he accepted the facts “as they stand” but said there was an explanation for what had happened on these occasions.

He explained that all of the lands owned in the area by Stewart were now being leased by another farmer, Pat McConnell, and that he had a folio in court to explain this.

Mr McConnell took to the witness box and explained the incidents and why he had come to court as it was him who “made” Stewart move the animals.

Mr McConnell had claimed that Stewart telephoned him saying that one of the lambs was “a bit weak” so he told him to collect his trailer and go down to his sheds and put the sheep and two lambs in it.

“My tags and my marks are on them and he did that under my instructions. He has bother enough and it was me who made him do it,” said Mr McConnell.

He added that he understood the ban on Stewart only meant that he could not keep animals himself and didn’t realise that interacting with them was a problem.

“It was saving a wee lamb from dying, that’s why I did it,” he added. Asked by Mr O’Gorman if he realised the difficulties that Stewart has now, Mr McConnell replied “I don’t want him taking any blame for something that I did.”

Mr McConnell said that he was leasing all the lands from Stewart and that he had been receiving fro the department for this.

Barrister Ms Johnston said she would suggest that Mr McConnell had tried his best but that the onus was on Stewart whom she said was “playing ducks and drakes with the system and paying scant regard for her lordship’s order.”

She added that the situation was “farcical” adding “Mr Stewart is fully aware of the court order – he has to have no dealings with any animals.”

Judge Cunningham said she would have to consider all matters but would deal with it after Christmas and adjourned the case for finalisation on February 6th.