A man accused of failing to report tampering with an electricity meter that then failed to record more than 12,000 units of use has had the case against him dismissed.
James Delaney Snr, with an address at Pier Road in Bantry in Co Cork, was prosecuted at Bantry District Court by ESB Networks DAC, which claimed that he, as the registered electricity consumer, had failed to prevent tampering by use of magnets of a pre-paid electricity meter over a period of almost a year.
Justin Cremin, a network technician and an authorised officer with ESB Networks, told Judge James McNulty that he had visited the site on February 6, 2017.
On arrival at the location, which is a halting site on the edge of Bantry town, Mr Cremin said he was first told my a young man there that Mr Delaney was elsewhere in town and that he had the key to the small hut which held the meter. When Mr Cremin said he was staying, a short time later the young man came out and said he had a key.
Mr Cremin used a probe to download the entire history of the meter onto a laptop and subsequent analysis showed that a magnet had been placed on the meter at 3.27pm on April 24, 2016 and had been later taken off at approximately 2pm on May 26 the same year.
Mr Cremin said the placing of a magnet on the meter box eliminated recording of electricity current for billing purposes but also, as it was unable to detect the level of current flow, it meant all safety measures were disabled in the device.
The court heard that in total magnets were applied to the meter on 15 different occasions between April 21, 2016 and February 2, 2017.
Catherine Walsh of the revenue protection service in ESB Networks in Tralee told the court that Mr Delaney was sent an invoice for 200e for the loss of the meter and its replacement, which was unpaid, and a registered letter, signed for, inviting him to a meeting in Dunmanway to discuss the case but which he did not attend.
She said that during the period the magnets were applied average daily usage through the meter was 5 units, whereas afterwards it "shot up" to 27 units a day. The total amount of electricity estimated to have been used but not recorded was 12,917 units, costing 2,182.31.
Ms Walsh said all but 230 of this has been paid by Mr Delaney since through additional payments on his electricity bills.
Mr Delaney said he never saw the letter asking him for a meeting and that as many as 15 families used the meter. When it came to buying electricity he said: "I just don't buy it myself".
He also said he had spent between 12 and 15 months in Dublin around this time as his grandson was in hospital. He also said there was no lock on the door of the meter hut and that he himself had fitted a door on it a decade ago for safety reasons.
Judge McNulty said the criminal prosecution was not going to succeed beyond a reasonable doubt, adding that Mr Delaney was clearly liable in civil liability terms, and had been repaying the money owed.
He dismissed the case and the court heard that the current meter in use at the location is tamper-proof.