A farmer living alone in an isolated area who felt threatened and intimidated handed over €83,000 to individuals who have been calling to his property over the last number of years, the High Court has heard.
The revelation prompted the Irish Farmers Association’s crime prevention officer to call for divisional units of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and for possible changes to legislation to grant greater protection to people living in isolated rural areas.
James Richard Hodgins, whose farm is 6km outside Roscrea in Co Tipperary, yesterday secured a number of temporary injunctions preventing 15 named men and two women, whom he claims have left him in fear for himself and his property, coming near him or his farm.
At the High Court, Mr Justice Paul Gilligan said the allegations were so serious that he directed the garda in charge at Roscrea Garda Station be put on notice of the proceedings.
The judge said he was satisfied to grant interim injunctions preventing the defendants and their agents from coming within 500m of Mr Hodgins or his property.
The court also made orders preventing the people from intimidating and harassing Mr Hodgins, who is aged in his early 40s, or from watching and besetting his property. The orders were granted on an ex parte basis and the case will come before the court again in two weeks’ time.
The defendant’s addresses are unknown, but they are currently residing in the jurisdiction.
The court heard that Mr Hodgins has lived alone since his father passed away a few years ago and, in court, his counsel said he was approached by the defendants, who all know each other, in 2013, offering to do work on the farm.
It was claimed that they did this because they knew Mr Hodgins was on his own.
He did not want to give them work but found it hard to refuse them. Often the works were either not done at all or were substandard. CCTV cameras were installed that did not work, while a shed was painted with cheap and unsuitable paint.
The court heard that Mr Hodgins felt intimidated into paying. After a while, offers of work stopped and the defendants approaching him demanding handouts and loans.
Counsel said Mr Hodgins felt intimidated and could not refuse them, and that they would call to his house and make repeated phone calls to him.
Mr Hodgins said he wrote them cheques totalling €102,000 — €83,000 of which were cashed.
Shortly before Christmas, Mr Hodgins was approached by another man, and the court heard that Mr Hodgins was threatened with harm and intimidated by this man unless he wrote him a cheque for €17,000. He duly wrote the cheque over concerns that the defendants would not leave him alone.
Bank officials in Roscrea became suspicious of the transactions and telephoned Mr Hodgins.
After he explained what was happening, the cheque was cancelled and the farmer, after getting advice from the bank, contacted his solicitor.
The solicitors contacted the defendants by text telling them to stay away and not contact Mr Hodgins, who also went to the gardaí about the matter.
Contact stopped for a time but after recent weeks the defendants returned to Mr Hodgins’ property again. They would drive a white van up to his house and hang around, ringing the doorbell and sounding the horn.
Counsel said that while it is intended to seek the return of the money handed over by his client, the more immediate concern was that injunctions be obtained to protect Mr Hodgins.
Colin Connolly, a former garda now working with the Irish Farmers’ Association, said: “It just reinforces how isolated these people are in these communities. It emphasises that there are no gardaí in these areas.”
While not referring to the specific case, Mr Connolly said he had received reports from people around the country — and particularly in central locations — who had felt they were being targeted by others, and that divisional units of CAB would be better able to avail of local knowledge to track any money gained in similar circumstances.
“We have a duty as a State to look after these people,” he said.
“If legislation is required it is something that has to be looked at.”
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