A partially sighted man has been described as a “serious nuisance to the rural community” by a judge.
Judge Philip Babington made the comment as Plumbridge man Anthony Morris appeared at Derry Crown Court.
Morris, of Bradkeel Road in the village, was convicted of possessing articles with intent to destroy or damage cattle following a two day trial at a court in Omagh.
He was also found guilty of the theft of a body warmer and a solar calculator from a cattle farmer.
The charges relate to an incident that occurred between February and March last year.
Derry Crown Court heard that members of the farmer’s family saw a light flickering in the cattle shed at their Glenelly Road farm in the early hours of the morning.
The farmer and his family went into the shed where they saw a man, later identified as Morris, “juking out” a cattle pen wearing a balaclava and a headtorch.
The farmer and his family held him in a silage pit until police arrived.
The court heard that the cattle farmer then found that a body warmer which Morris had on had been stolen from his vehcile and that a solar calculator that was in it was also missing.
Officer carried out a search of the cattle shed and discovered a shoulder-length veterinary inspection glove, a brush shaft, a two inch penknife and a length of rope on or beside Morris.
During interview Morris told the police he had the glove “to keep his hand clean”, the brush shaft “to keep my balance”, the balaclava “because I didn’t want anyone to see me” and the torch “to see”.
He claimed that he had been forced by another man, who he refused to name to police or under oath at his trial, to go to the cow shed and check tags on the cattle.
It was revealed to the court the 44-year-old, who has been registered blind since 2005, has a criminal record which includes convictions for burglary, theft and possession of firearms.
A defence barrister said his client denied the offences during the course of his police interview, while under oath at his trial and continued to deny the offence.
However, he said Morris “accepts the court must enforce the jury’s verdict”.
The barrister told the court that the press coverage of the case has subjected Morris to a “fair degree of ridicule”.
Judge Philip Babington said he had “considered long and hard” whether Morris should serve a custodial sentence. However decided to suspend an 18 month jail term for three years.
He said that Morris is a “serious nuisance” to the rural community.
Judge Babington added it was clear Morris was going to do something to the farmer’s cattle as “you didn’t go dressed for an innocent purpose”.
Turning to the health problems Morris has, the judge said that while he does have fairly serious health difficulties “you are prepared to exaggerate them if you need to”.