A man who admitted dishonesty receiving a stolen parrot called ‘Barney’ and other animals, which he was keeping in a “quasi-Noah’s Ark” in a housing estate, has escaped being caged himself.
Darren McPeake (32), an unemployed father-of-three from Lanntara in Ballymena, appeared at the town’s Magistrates Court on Thursday and was given a six months jail term, suspended for two years.
He had previously pleaded guilty to a charge of dishonestly receiving ‘stolen goods’ which included the parrot, six tortoises, five birds, a python and a chameleon.
The offence was committed in December last year and McPeake was not charged with any role in the actual theft of the animals from a pet shop in Ballymena.
The court heard no one has been made amenable for the break-in at Ladysmith Pet Supplies.
A prosecutor said a number of animals worth over £2,100 stolen in the raid along with £100 in cash and were taken.
When the animals - including Barney - were recovered at McPeake’s home he was also in possession of cannabis and Diazepam.
The prosecutor said the defendant indicated during a police interview that he was not involved in the actual break-in but instead he was asked to “keep the animals” for others.
Defence barrister Stephen Law, instructed by solicitor Stewart Ballentine, told the court: “It was somewhat strange that there was a quasi-Noah’s Ark in Lanntara”.
Mr Law said the defendant had been approached and he had offered to keep the “array of animals”.
However the barrister added: “He wasn’t very good at keeping them. I think five flew away”.
Mr Law said McPeake got himself involved in something he was not very competent in as the animals needed “watered and fed”.
Mr Law said at the time the defendant was mis-using cannabis and Diazepam and said that may have been why he was “harbouring” the animals.
Added the lawyer: “He may have been utilised by others who ultimately had a plan to store these animals and move them on”.
Mr Law added: “Animal lovers were outraged at this offending but he was the public face of it rather than others who inflicted damage at the store”.
The court heard McPeake had 62 previous convictions but the defendant claimed three of those were a “misprint”.
District Judge Peter King said the custody threshold had been well and truly crossed, adding: “The only reason you are not going to prison is because you had a secondary role in this escapade”.
The judge said if McPeake had been directly involved in the break-in he would have been jailed.
When the case was first mentioned at the same court in March, McPeake failed to show up and and an arrest warrant was issued.
A week later he did appear at Ballymena Courthouse upon the instructions of his solicitor and was formally arrested in the building on foot of the warrant.
Mr Ballentine told that hearing McPeake was originally apprehensive about coming to court as he had been “concerned” about what had been said on “social media” in December regarding the theft of Barney.
Outside the court on Thursday, the defendant was asked if he had a message for the public and he said he was “sorry” and that he “should never have got involved”.
The theft of the animals was given a high-profile on media outlets in the run up to Christmas and as appeals went out for information regarding the whereabouts of Barney and co there was much commentary on social media.
The stolen animals belonged to Marion McAuley from Ladysmith Pet Supplies in Ballymena.
‘Barney’ - an African Grey parrot - was the shop’s official ‘pet’ and was not for sale.
Last December, Marion McAuley told the media of her devastation at the theft of Barney and the other animals.
She said Barney had felt so at home at the pet shop in Ballymena’s Harryville area he often hitched a ride round the store on the shoulders of staff.
In December she told the press: “The shop has been in business for 13 and a half years and we have had Barney for ten years. He is part of the furniture here and is our pet and was never for sale.
“He often would have sat on my shoulder but now his cage lies empty,” said Mrs McAuley.
She said Barney was a favourite with customers and his ‘chit-chat’ was legendary in the shop.
Added Mrs McAuley: “Barney would have repeated things you said so when the phone rang in the shop he would say ‘hello’ and if somebody said ‘bye’ going out the shop he would repeat that too. He is a bit of a character and we miss him and want him back”.
She had appealed for the public’s help in getting ‘Barney’ and the other animals back and within a few days the pilfered parrot and the other exotic animals were found by police and returned to Marion.
The PSNI said at the time that “with the help of the local community” it had been able to get the pets handed back to Ladysmith Pet Supplies, saying Barney was “safe and well”.