Man previously banned from keeping animals for life caught with lambs in car

A farmer previously hit with a life time ban on keeping animals was detected with three lambs in the front of his car, Ballymena Magistrates Court was told on Thursday.

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 5:00 pm

Michael Francis Agnew (50), of Ballynease Road, Portglenone, pleaded guilty to breaching the ban after police spotted the animals at Main Street in Portglenone around 10pm on March 29 this year.

In 2014 Agnew was the first person in Northern Ireland to receive a jail term under animal welfare legislation which was introduced in 2011 and he was then given a life time animal ban in 2018.

A prosecutor told the court police received information that Agnew was in attendance at a livestock mart in the Ballymena area and when they stopped him driving a vehicle at Portglenone they were aware he was subject to disqualification in relation to the Welfare of Animals Act. One of the conditions was a ban on transporting animals but the prosecutor said “police noted three lambs in the footwell and the passenger seat of the vehicle”. The prosecution lawyer said the ban is a “life time disqualification”.

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Agnew had 163 previous convictions including 30 for animal welfare offences, a defence barrister said. The defence lawyer said the defendant had “mental fragility” and receives help from a Community Mental Health Team. He said police had been made aware of “threats” against the defendant. The barrister said the current case did not involve “harm” being caused to animals. He said if a Probation Order was handed down it would give “vulnerable” Agnew a “helping hand to keep him on the straight and narrow and to make sure there isn’t any reoccurrence”.

Deputy District Judge Noel Dunlop told the defendant, who was in court, he had an “atrocious record in relation to the mistreatment of animals”. He added: “You knew, or certainly ought to have known full well, that you shouldn’t be transporting them”. The judge said he would keep “something hanging over your head” and handed down a three months jail term which he suspended for three years. He told Agnew: “Keep out of trouble for the next three years and you will hear nothing further about this. I have to warn you if you keep or transport any animals again you will receive something more severe”. Footage of the lambs in Agnew’s car was posted on social media by the PSNI on March 29 this year.

The Police Mid Ulster Facebook page said at the time: “Mid Ulster NPT (Neighbourhood Policing Team) stopped a vehicle in Portglenone this evening.

“Three lambs were rescued after being transported in the footwell of a car. The driver was arrested for an Animal Welfare offence as he is legally barred from keeping animals.”

Back in 2014 the BBC had reported that the defendant was found guilty of animal cruelty offences and was given a six months jail sentence and a ten year ban on keeping livestock. It was the first time someone has been given a jail term under animal welfare legislation that came into effect in Northern Ireland in 2011.

Agnew had been convicted of 16 charges at Ballymena Magistrates Court.

Department of Agriculture (DARD) inspectors had found animals living in appalling conditions when they visited his farm in December 2012. Carcasses of dead pigs and calves were found among live animals, and some livestock were crammed into sheds with no access to food or water. Some had to be put down to prevent further suffering. A judge in 2014 described Agnew’s treatment of the animals as a “very serious matter”. It was revealed during the hearing that Agnew had 115 previous convictions and was already banned from keeping animals when DARD inspectors went to his farm. A defence lawyer told the 2014 court it was not a matter of wilful mistreatment but rather ill-informed and poor management. He added that Agnew’s intellectual capacity affected his ability to understand the meaning of a disqualification order.

In 2014 the judge had said the welfare of animals was of concern to the community. He told Agnew that he had an extensive record and had ignored previous orders. The judge had imposed a four-month sentence for the cruelty charges. He also brought into effect a previous two-month sentence which had been suspended, the BBC reported in 2014. Agnew was also fined £2,000 and disqualified from keeping livestock for 10 years, the court in 2014 was told.

In October 2018, Agnew, was given a suspended 18 months prison term after he admitted two charges of failing to prevent unnecessary suffering to pigs.

Agnew, who had previously pleaded guilty, was sentenced at the Crown Court in Derry/Londonderry.

Media reports at the time said he was also disqualified from owning animals, keeping animals, participating in keeping animals, being party to an arrangement under which that person is entitled to control or influence the way in which animals are being kept, from dealing in animals, from transporting animals, arranging the transport of animals - for life.

The case arose when very serious animal welfare issues were discovered during ongoing monitoring of welfare standards on the defendant’s premises.

Two pigs had to be euthanised by a veterinary surgeon to prevent them suffering any further.