Ex-council employee jailed for six months for releasing rats into office over grievance

Judge says offence was of ‘unique wickedness’ that merited custodial sentence

John O’Neill from Glanduff, Kilbrittain, Co Cork pictured at Bandon District Court where he pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage by releasing two rats into the offices of Cork County Council at Kinsale in February 2021. Photograph: Cork Courts

John O’Neill from Glanduff, Kilbrittain, Co Cork pictured at Bandon District Court where he pleaded guilty to causing criminal damage by releasing two rats into the offices of Cork County Council at Kinsale in February 2021. Photograph: Cork Courts

 

A 61-year-old former council employee has been jailed for six months after he admitted trapping two rats and releasing them into the offices of his former employer because he had a grievance with a member of the local management team.

John O’Neill from Glanduff, Kilbrittain, Co Cork, pleaded guilty at Bandon District Court to causing criminal damage by releasing the rats into the offices of Cork County Council at Rathbeg, Kinsale on February 9th, 2021, contrary to section 2 of the Criminal Damage Act 1991.

Defence solicitor Diarmuid O’Shea indicated that O’Neill was pleading guilty to the charge and Sgt Paul Kelly proceeded to outline how O’Neill had gone about trapping and releasing the two rats into the council office where they caused some €3,000 worth of damage over four days.

Sgt Kelly said that O’Neill had a grievance with a member of the council management at the Kinsale office so he went out and trapped two rats and kept them in cages before bringing them into the office early on the morning of February 9th last and releasing them.

The rats caused considerable damage over the next three mornings, with staff having to clean up their excrement from almost every surface in the office each day when they went into work while the rodents also ate through some electrical cables and also damaged computer keyboards.

Cork County Council had to hire in pest control and on February 12th, Rentokill trapped and killed the two rats but council staff were suspicious as to how the animals gained entry to the office and notified gardaí and Det Garda Michael Brosnan of Kinsale Garda station began an investigation.

Det Garda Brosnan obtained CCTV footage which showed O’Neill reversing his van up to the office on the morning of February 9th, removing an item from it, which he covered with his jacket, and later emerging with the item again covered up.

Sgt Kelly said that Det Garda Brosnan arrested O’Neill on May 24th and brought him to Bandon Garda station where during the course of interview, he admitted catching and releasing the rats into the council office because he had a grievance with a member of the management team there.

O’Neill expressed remorse for his actions and co-operated fully with gardaí in their investigation which was of great assistance to them as it could have been a difficult case to prosecute, said Sgt Kelly, adding that O’Neill had no previous convictions and was previously of good character.

Mr O’Shea said that his client deeply regretted his action, which was “a daft thing to do” and “extremely stupid behaviour” and was completely out of character for him but marked the culmination of a series of grievances he had with a particular member of the council management.

These grievances had been building for some time and affecting his family life, preventing him from sleeping and ruining a family holiday in Portugal but the consequences had proven costly for him as it led him to resign from his job after 23 years working with the council.

Mr O’Shea said that his client had simply “flipped” but Judge James McNulty took issue with him over the use of the word “flipped” which he said suggested a momentary and spontaneous action but O’Neill’s offence was clearly a lot more than a momentary incident.

He said O’Neill had to plan the entire episode, going out and trapping the rats, then caging them and bringing them to the council office and releasing them, and he had numerous opportunities to reflect on what he was doing and realise it was “not a good idea” but he had chosen not to do so.

He said that while O’Neill may have had a grievance with one member of the council management team, there were routes available to him to address that but he had ignored that option and instead embarked on a course of action that affected not just his target but many council employees.

Sgt Kelly said that the penalty was a €2,500 fine or 12 months in prison but Mr O’Shea said that his client had brought €3,000 to court in compensation to cover the damage and clean-up costs and he pleaded for leniency, pointing to his client’s age and previous good character.

But Judge McNulty said that it was an offence of “unique wickedness” that was premeditated and carefully planned and while he accepted that O’Neill was unlikely to re-offend, it merited a custodial sentence to act as a general deterrence to let people know that such acts would not be tolerated.

He sentenced O’Neill to 12 months in jail but suspended six months due to a series of mitigating factors including his early plea, co-operation with gardaí, apology, previous good character, payment of compensation and age, and he sentenced him to six months in jail.