West Cork grandmother guilty of causing criminal damage to deceased neighbour's land 

Woman, 62, could face jail as her conviction may trigger a 12-month prison sentence relating to an earlier offence
West Cork grandmother guilty of causing criminal damage to deceased neighbour's land 

Sionad Jones, from Kealkill, Co Cork. 

A grandmother has been found guilty of causing criminal damage on her deceased neighbour's land, who in the words of the judge rejected "almost like a voice from beyond the grave" her suggestion that he had allowed her to cut down his trees.

Sioned Jones, aged 62, from Maughnaclea, Kealkill, near Bantry in West Cork, had pleaded not guilty to the charges before Bantry District Court of causing criminal damage on land at Cappabue, Maughnaclea, on March 28 last year. 

She could face jail as her conviction may trigger a 12-month prison sentence relating to an earlier offence.

Jones said she was simply replacing one dead tree she had previously planted on the lands and had also been aiming to plant a memorial tree for the landowner, Johnny Kelleher, who had died just a month earlier.

However, the Bantry trial heard that in a previous statement to gardaí, Johnny Kelleher said he had never given Jones permission to carry out any activity on his lands, while his brother and executor of his estate, Tim Kelleher, alleged in court that Johnny Kelleher had been "intimidated" by Jones.

Investigating Garda Martin Hanley told the judge he received a report on March 29 last year from Tim Kelleher, who had alleged criminal damage to trees.

The garda met with Tim Kelleher and found a garden spade close to a hole in the ground.  Jones approached and said the spade was hers and also said she had cleared briars from the area.

Tim Kelleher told the judge: "On that day there was definitely two to three trees cut out and there were others then replaced." 

He said these "freshly cut" trees would have been 6ft to 7ft in height though he said he did not see any cut trees in the area.

"She basically told the guard that she had the right to do it," Mr Kelleher said of the conversation, adding it was "absolutely untrue" that his brother had given permission for trees to be cut.

He said his brother, who died on February 20 last year, had suffered from depression.

"Basically he was tortured by Sioned Jones," he said. 

"He was intimidated by her a number of times."

The court heard the land has since been sold and under cross-examination by Jones's solicitor, Luke O'Donovan, Tim Kelleher said he had never seen her cutting a tree.

Giving evidence, Jones said she had pointed out a dead birch tree she said she was replacing, and her spade which was in the ground.

"Johnny had just died and we were all upset," she said. "I wanted to plant a memorial tree on that land. Later on I planted a memorial tree for Johnny."

Jones told the judge the late Johnny Kelleher had given her permission to replace spruce with broadleaf trees in an area close to her vegetable garden. 

She admitted she had later "overstepped the mark" when this tree replacement was extended to another area, which had led to a matter later resolved on a guilty plea.

She denied committing any offence on March 28 last year. 

"Mr Kelleher says he saw three stumps, but where are the photos," she said. 

"It's absolutely not true."

As for when she had previously "upset Johnny" she said: "I apologised to him every time I saw him."

Inspector Emmet Daly then read a statement had been given to gardaí relating to the previous incident but which — on account of a later guilty plea by Jones in that case — had not been aired at the time.

In it, Johnny Kelleher said he had a 10-acre area of planted trees and that on December 16, 2017, he had gone over to check sheep when he saw a man and two women cutting down trees with a bow saw.

"Sioned Jones said they were cutting down trees and replacing them and I said 'you can't do this', but they would not stop for me."

He had told gardaí he spent 20 minutes trying to stop them and later reported it to a forestry officer and gardaí.

"I gave no personal permission for anyone to come and cut trees at any time," the late Johnny Kelleher had said.

Judge McNulty said the evidence of Tim Kelleher was significant with regard to his "vivid and reliable" recollection of seeing tree stumps and the evidence that his brother had had a poor relationship with the accused, saying the statement was "almost like a voice from the grave".

"Based solely on the evidence I have heard it seems almost laughable that she would justify her intrusion by claiming to be planting a tree as a memorial to a man that she may have intimidated and who may have been in fear of her," the judge said.

The court heard Jones had 19 previous convictions including nine for possession of drugs, one for sale or supply of drugs, and one for theft.

The theft conviction relates to the handing down of a suspended sentence in Cork Circuit Court in October last year when Jones was found guilty of stealing €500 worth of Sitka Spruce belonging to Coillte after she used a chainsaw to fell over 200 trees at a forest near her home.

Judge McNulty queried whether this would need to be returned to the circuit court.

Deferring penalty, he said: "The whole world does not belong to her. She is not free to save the world on someone else's property."

He remanded her on continuing bail to February 22 next when penalty will be determined. 

Jones signalled her intention to lodge an appeal.

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