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Former employee jailed after releasing rats into Cork council offices

Olivia Kelleher

A man who trapped two rats and released them into his workplace amid an alleged grievance with a colleague has paid €3,000 in compensation and will serve a six-month prison sentence.

Bandon District Court in Co Cork heard that John O'Neill (61), who has since retired from his position in Cork County Council, released the live rats into Rathbeg Council Offices in Kinsale on February 9th this year.

The rats caused thousands of euro in damage before they were caught by pest control.

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Sergeant Paul Kelly told the court that at the time of the offence the married man was an employee of the council.

He was captured on CCTV entering the building with an item which was covered under his jacket and leaving the premises shortly after, presumably after releasing the live rats in the property.

Sgt Kelly said that when staff came to work on February 10th the offices were covered in excrement. Pest control officers were called, and on February 12th they identified two live rats as the source of the problem.

He said over the course of a few days the offices were "destroyed in excrement" and the cleaning process in addition to the damage incurred cost about €3,000.

Deliberate infestation

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On March 26th management reported their suspicions that the rat infestation was deliberate. Detective Garda Michael Brosnan of Kinsale started an investigation.

CCTV footage was checked and photographs were taken at the scene. Mr O'Neill was identified via CCTV as the person who released the live rats onsite.

On May 24th Garda Brosnan arrested Mr O'Neill, and he was detained for questioning at Bandon Garda station. Sgt Kelly said that Mr O'Neill made "full and frank admissions".

Mr O'Neill told gardaí that he carried out the act because of a deteriorating relationship with management. Sgt Kelly said that Mr O'Neill was genuinely remorseful and co-operated fully with gardaí.

He emphasised that without the co-operation of O’Neill it might have been difficult to bring the case to fruition.

He outlined to Judge James McNulty that the estimated cost of cleaning the offices was €3,000. This involved deep cleaning, keyboards had to be disposed of and damage was caused to cables and lights.

Difficulties with management

Mr O'Neill's solicitor Diarmuid O'Shea said his client had brought €3,000 in court in compensation for his actions. The maximum sentence in the case was €2,500 or 12 months in prison.

Mr O'Shea said that his client was without previous convictions and had never come to the attention of gardai. He stated that O'Neill had been employed by the council for 23 years but had stepped down from his position when the incident emerged.

He retired early with "self-imposed" financial loss, the court heard. Mr O'Shea said that his client indicated that he carried out the act because of alleged difficulties in relations with a particular member of management over a long period of time.

"He was coming home and not sleeping. He was giving out. He ruined a holiday in Portugal [from not sleeping]."

He said that his client had gone to hospital with stress in July 2020. However, Judge McNulty said that there were plenty of ways of dealing with feelings of stress that didn't involve releasing rats in to an office.

Mr O'Shea said that his client had "just flipped" on the day of the offence. However, Judge McNulty said flipping suggested a spontaneous momentary lapse of behaviour.

"This required forethought and was a deliberate act. He needed to catch and find rats. He needed to release them."

Tension

Judge McNulty said that Mr O'Neill's alleged tension was with one colleague, but his actions impacted on the whole workforce. He also stressed that there were two sides to every story.

Mr O'Shea insisted that the behaviour of his client was "daft" and completely out of character. He stated that his client knew it was "an awful horrible thing to do" and had expressed huge regret for his actions.

He added O’Neill wanted to apologise profusely for actions that he didn't understand himself.

"He has never been in court. He has never been in trouble with the law. It was stupid behaviour."

Uniquely wicked

While he accepted that O’Neill was unlikely to reoffend, Judge McNulty ruled that the case merited a custodial sentence arising out of the careful planning and premeditation of the defendant.

Judge McNulty said that the behaviour of the defendant was "uniquely wicked" and "committed with malice."

He jailed O'Neill for six months to order to send out a strong message and deterrent to others who may seek to offend in this manner.

Mr O’Neill, with an address at Glanduff, Kilbrittain, Co Cork, had pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage by releasing the rats into the offices of Cork County Council at Rathbeg, Kinsale on February 9th, contrary to section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act 1991. An appeal has been lodged in the case.

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