A disgruntled Cork County Council worker was jailed for six months for the “uniquely wicked act” of releasing live rats into a manager’s office.
John O’Neill, 61, of Glanduff, Kilbrittain, captured two large rats, drove them to his place of work and released them in an office used as a canteen by council management in Kinsale at 8.20am on February 2.
Surfaces were “destroyed with excrement” when employees arrived to the premises at Rathbeg, Kinsale later that day.
The defendant’s colleagues had to clean rat excrement that morning which was on “practically every surface” before Rentokill was called to exterminate the rats, Bandon District Court heard. A deep clean was then carried out of the office and damaged cables and lighting were removed.
Concerns that it may have been deliberate lead employees to report the crime to gardaí. During an “extensive investigation” by Detective Garda Michael Brosnan of Kinsale Garda Station, CCTV was found which showed the defendant arriving at the scene of the crime, removing something from his car which he covered with a jacket, and entering the building.
On May 24, O’Neil was arrested. The court heard that he made “a full and frank” admission. He said that a grievance with a manager had lead to the incident but he was now “extremely remorseful”.
His remorse was “very genuine”, the court heard. And his co-operation with the investigation helped the case to be brought to conclusion. Mr O’Neill, a Roads Supervisor with Cork County Council, pleaded guilty to the charge of criminal damage under Section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act, 1991.
He has no previous convictions and never came to the notice of gardaí in the past. O’Neill was married and had worked for Cork County Council for 23 years.
His solicitor, Mr Diarmuid O’Shea, said that it could have been “a hard case to bring home” if O’Neill had not “coughed up” with information. But Judge James McNulty said that CCTV would have shown the defendant at the scene regardless.
Mr O’Shea said that his client had retired early from his job with some financial loss following the incident. He had been experiencing “industrial difficulties” over a long period of time which were building up to such an extent that he had severe difficulty sleeping and home life was becoming “unbearable” for his family.
The court heard that O’Neill “just flipped” on the day in question. The expression “just flipped” indicates a momentary lapse of behaviour, something spontaneous, Judge McNulty said.
“But this required some forethought and deliberate action. It required him to first catch the rats. On that journey and on the way to work, he must have thought ‘this is not a good thing to do.’
“But he arrived, unloaded his passengers, and introduced them to a place where his colleagues worked.
Mr O’Shea admitted it was “a daft thing to do” and was totally out of character for Mr O’Neill. “It was an awful, horrible thing to do and there is huge remorse on his part.
“The consequences for himself have not been small. He’s brought €3,000 to court and he has asked to apologise to all his ex-colleagues.
“It was shocking behaviour and he doesn’t understand his own mindset. But he’s here to accept the consequences of his actions.
“I’ve seen the mental anguish the thought of today has had on him. He’s never been in a court before five minutes ago.”
Penalties for the crime are a fine of up to €2,500 or 12 months in prison, the court heard. Costs to Cork County Council came to €3,000. O’Neill was ready to pay those costs, the court heard.
“This event is uniquely wicked and was committed with malice towards one person and gross recklessness towards many,” Judge McNulty said. “This Mr O’Neill must be held accountable and punished appropriately.”
Judge McNulty said that although he believed that there was little chance of him reoffending, a “significant sentence” was warranted to deter others. He said that a fine was “missing the gravity” of the offence.
“The court is going to send Mr O’Neill to prison.
“If this is punished leniently others might try something similar. Work conflict is quite common but there are several different means and routes to addressing them.
“The offence is so uniquely wicked that it requires 12 months in prison,” Judge McNulty said.
Mr O’Shea asked if suspending the sentence would be more appropriate for a man of his client’s age. But Judge McNulty said that he would take into account six mitigating factors - Mr O’Neil’s compliance with gardaí, his early guilty plea, his apology and remorse, no previous convictions, his payment of compensation and his age.
These mitigating factors would allow him to reduce the sentence by six months, he said. “If you think my reasoning is faulty and the punishment is too severe you can appeal.
“His own bond of €100 will suffice.” He said this would be on condition that he pay the €3,000 compensation to Cork County Council. Judge McNulty also mentioned that he may face civil cases if his colleague suffered psychological trauma from the incident.