A retired garda is likely to have “removed and disturbed human remains” when he damaged a Bronze Age burial mound in County Wicklow, a court has heard.
Tony (also known as Thomas) Hand, aged 69, had denied interfering with the national monument at Carrig, Blessington, by taking stones from the protected site on the night of May 4, 2011.
However following a week-long trial at Bray Circuit Court, he was convicted yesterday of criminal damage to the prehistoric stone circle.
It took the jury just over three hours to return a majority guilty verdict of 10 to 2.
Judge Gerard Griffin remanded Hand, with an address at Carrig, Blessington, on bail for sentencing on Friday, February 20.
Archeologist Chris Corlett told the court he visited the site on May 6, 2011, and noticed obvious disturbances within the burial chamber and that stones had been recently dislodged and moved.
“There is a strong likelihood that human remains had been removed and disturbed and that artifacts may have been removed. The whole understanding of the monument was compromised.”
He told Paul Murray, prosecuting, that he had visited the 4,000-year-old site over 20 times in the last decade. He said there was evidence of at least one burial chamber or compartment which would have contained urns of the cremated remains of local people buried over thousands of years and their accompanying “grave goods”.
“We could expect to find highly-decorated pottery food vessels, amber beads and metal artefacts of very rare and international significance,” said Mr Corlett.
The site is protected under the National Monuments Act by a preservation order laid down by former environment minister Dick Roche in 2005.
Four local residents gave evidence that they saw Hand removing stones from the monument shortly before 7.30pm on the night in question.
One witness said he saw Hand swinging a pick-axe, stooping to lift up stones and carrying wheelbarrow loads of stones from the monument to the bottom of the field.
“He wasn’t planting potatoes,” the witness said, under cross-examination from James Kelly, defending.
Another woman told the court she heard the sound of “steel on stone” and saw Hand hefting large stones from the circle into a barrow and carting them away.
Garda Paul Dowling said he was called to the scene on the night and saw freshly-disturbed soil and a large stone in the centre of the mound that had been recently broken into four.
Gardaí also saw a track worn away consistent with a wheelbarrow from the monument to a corner of the field, where they found a stone with fresh earth on it.
Garda Fintan Hennessy said Hand was arrested on by appointment in February 2012 and denied damaging the monument.
Hand told gardaí he had been in the field on the night, about 150m away from the ringfort, wheeling loose field stones in a wheelbarrow.
He said he had not sought ministerial permission to work on the site “because it wasn’t necessary”.
Hand told the gardaí he had bought the land “as a hobby” for the purpose of “planting and nurturing trees”.
Judge Griffin thanked the jury of eight men and four women for their conscientous attention and discharged them from further jury duty for five years.
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