Farmers warned rogue sheep dealer never to trade again
Sunday Independent (Ireland)

Walsh: Visited marts but was ostracised and 'warned off' by farmers

SHAMED sheep dealer John Walsh, sentenced on Friday to three months in jail for smuggling the sheep that sparked the national foot-and-mouth crisis last year, is unlikely to ever trade again in this country.

While on bail, Walsh tested the waters at two Leinster marts and found himself ostracised by farmers. Walsh was also "warned off" by a number of individual farmers who told him he would never trade again, the Sunday Independent has learned.

Last week the full details of the elaborate scam by Walsh to smuggle sheep from the UK and pass them off as Irish lambs for export was revealed.

The 50-year-old former hotelier, who was also known as "the Kerryman", of Warrick Square, Carlisle, England, and formerly Longford House, Birr, Co Offaly, pleaded guilty to four charges of illegally importing 279 sheep in contravention of EU Trading in Animal Product Regulations and failing to notify the Department of Agriculture of the importation between February 19 and 20 last.

The successful conviction paves the way for another series of prosecutions in relation to last year's foot-and-mouth crisis. Detectives are still compiling evidence against a number of individuals.

Judge Gerard Haughton heard Walsh used a number of methods to try to get the sheep into the country illegally and he also took elaborate measures to ensure they could not be traced to him. These included using false names, false number plate details, using health certificates for other sheep and removing tags which marked the consignment as British.

In statements made to gardai, he said he bought some sheep at Carlisle mart and mixed them in with others he had brought over from Ireland and for which he had health certificates.

They were then brought through Scotland and Northern Ireland, before they arrived at meat factories in the Republic.

His first attempt to smuggle the diseased consignment failed, but Walsh was undeterred and came up with another plan to bring them to Ireland.

He initially used a haulier friend to transport them on the ferry, but the haulier rang him at the port to tell him he had been stopped because the health certificates were incorrect.

Walsh then arranged to have them taken to a farm in England where they were kept without the knowledge of the owner.

Around February 17, he brought the sheep back to Carlisle and the following day Walsh and another man drove them to a farm in Lockerbie, Scotland, where they picked up another 70 sheep. They then went to Stranraer, where they successfully caught the ferry to Larne in Antrim.

They drove to Meigh in South Armagh where they arranged to remove the UK ear tags of most of the 279 sheep from Carlisle.

They then made arrangements to drive 248 sheep to Kepak in Athleague, Roscommon, and 31 to ICM in Navan, Meath.

At Kepak, to have them accepted for slaughter, Walsh gave the name of a farmer he knew was on the factory's books and he also gave a false number for the truck used to deliver them.

The rest of the sheep were brought to ICM, Navan, and were booked in using the name of a legitimate farmer.

Walsh picked up four cheques for the sheep totalling #13,097 and asked that they be made out in the name of a farmer whose name he knew, so that he could claim back a 4.3 per cent VAT rebate.

In a further effort to prevent the sheep being traced to him, Walsh went to an Allied Irish Bank branch in Co Roscommon where he was allowed to convert the cheques to a sterling draft for £10,524, without having to produce any identification.

This was done by going to a particular person in the bank using a serial number given to him by the meat factory.

Nine days later, foot-and-mouth disease was officially confirmed in Ireland.

Walsh had previous convictions, including one for failing to bury the carcasses of sheep, another for assault and another for road traffic offences.

He had already spent seven months in custody and this was taken into account when Judge Haughton imposed a three month sentence on Friday.

JEROME REILLY