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No jail for Dublin school fruit thief

Thomas Byrne
Thomas Byrne

A FORMER school caretaker found guilty of stealing fruit meant to be given to disadvantaged pupils in a healthy food initiative has avoided jail and was fined €300.

Thomas Byrne (56) of Howth Road, Raheny, Dublin had contested eight counts of theft of bags of bananas, apples oranges worth about €66 from Scoil Fhursa in Kilmore, in Dublin 5 between Feb. 24 and March 7 in 2014 when he was employed as a caretaker.

However, he was found guilty at Dublin District Court by Judge Ann Ryan who spared him a sentence and imposed a fine today.

Father-of-two Byrne, who is now doing a history and archaeology course in Trinity College, has no prior criminal convictions, the court had heard.

During an earlier hearing of the case, school principal Martin Stynes told Judge Ryan that the HSE and Dublin City Council ran a healthy eating programme for schools.

He said Scoil Fhursa is in an area designated as socially disadvantaged and the aim of the scheme was for the pupils to try different foods.

Mr Stynes said there were irregularities and the school noticed inconsistencies in the supply of fruits and the availability of it to the children. He asked the secretary to keep an eye on the records of what was supplied to the school, he said adding that the caretaker had responsibility for some of the fruit.

On Feb. 24, it was expected there would be 10 bags of oranges but only four were counted; on Feb. 26, there was supposed to be six bags of bananas but four were counted; on the following day it was expected that there would be six bags of apples among the delivery but there was none; on Feb. 28 the school expected that there would be two bags of apples in the consignment but no apples were present.

The court heard that on March 3, it was expected there would be 10 bags of oranges but there were two; the next day there were three bags of apples when there was supposed to be six.

On March 5 there were three bags of bananas when there should have been six and on March 7 it was expected there would be be two bags of apples but only one was counted. Mr Stynes said “the teachers were asking why we have no bananas today or not enough oranges".

He claimed the defendant told him “some days we get more, some days we get less you cannot depend on the delivery.” Mr Stynes said “given that this person was trusted in his area of work I took him at his word”.

School secretary Catherine Fowler confirmed she counted the shortfall of fruit. John Mooney, the owner of Glanmore Foods, had said the fruit was delivered to schools four days a week and free of charge. He confirmed the amount of food on the order for Scoil Fhursa.

Byrne's counsel had told the court his client thought some of the fruit left in a basket outside his office was freely available and he did not see a problem taking it. The court prosecution followed his refusal to accept an adult caution offered by the investigating gardai.

CCTV was shown of him bringing bags out to his car on a number of dates. Judge Ryan was satisfied that if anyone else had access to the fruit they would have been easy to see.