Retired garda gets suspended sentence for damaging Bronze Age monument

Tony Hand ‘flagrantly’ damaged prehistoric burial mound in Co Wicklow

Tony Hand was found guilty by a jury after a five-day trial last month of injury to a national monument.

Tony Hand was found guilty by a jury after a five-day trial last month of injury to a national monument.

 

A retired garda has been given an 18-month suspended sentence and fined €10,000 after he “flagrantly and blatantly” damaged a prehistoric burial mound in Co Wicklow.

Witnesses described seeing Tony Hand (69) swinging a pick-axe and removing large stones in a wheelbarrow from the Bronze Age site at Carrig, Blessington on the night of May 4th, 2011.

Passing sentence at Bray Circuit Court, Judge Gerard Griffin said Hand knew there was a 2005 Preservation Order protecting the national monument on his land.

Hand, with an address at Carrig, Blessington, denied the charge but was found guilty by a jury after a five-day trial last month of injury to a national monument.

“This was the most blatant and flagrant attempt to demolish a burial mound which might have contained cremated human remains and accompanying grave goods from 4,000 years ago,” said Judge Griffin.

“He knew, or ought to have known, that his actions in interfering with this national monument constituted a serious criminal offence,” he said, adding that Hand has been a Garda for 37 years and knew he was “under the spotlight” of the National Monuments Service.

Judge Griffin said Ireland’s national heritage was a “unique and irreplaceable legacy bestowed upon us” and that it was our responsibility to maintain and preserve it for future generations.

He ordered Hand to pay the €10,000 fine within a year or face three months in prison.

He further told Hand to keep the peace, be of good behaviour and not commit any offence under the National Monuments Act for five years.

James Kelly BL, defending, said his client intended to appeal the sentence. Hand was granted legal aid to appeal.

Mr Kelly said Hand received a character reference for exemplary service on retiring from An Garda Síochána. He said Hand, along with his wife, is the sole carer for their son who suffers from acute Crohn’s Disease. Mr Kelly said his client had planted scores of deciduous trees on his land at his own expense and in doing so had provided a valuable amenity for the local community.

The court heard that the monument, an earthen embankment 21m wide ringed by a circle of stones, was now impossible to restore because of the extent of the damage.

Paul Murray BL, prosecuting, said if the site were to be excavated with a full archaeological dig, it would cost between €40,000 and €50,000. He cited Pauline Gleeson, senior archaeologist at the National Monuments Service, who described the monument as a “non-renewable resource”.

During the trial, State archaeologist Chris Corlett said the whole understanding of the monument had been compromised by the damage done. “There is a strong likelihood that human remains were removed and that artefacts may have been removed,” he said.

Mr Corlett said there was evidence of up to four burial chambers at the site, where one could expect to find highly-decorated pottery food vessels, amber beads and metal artefacts of “very rare and international significance”.

Garda Paul Dowling told the jury during the trial that he was called to the scene on the night of May 4th, 2011 and saw freshly-disturbed soil and a large stone in the centre of the mound that had been recently broken into four.

On arrest, Hand told gardaí he had been taking loose field stones from a different area of the field and said he had bought the land “as a hobby” for planting trees.

He said he had not sought ministerial consent to work on the land because he felt “it wasn’t necessary”.