No jail for man who tampered with meters

James McLoughlin
James McLoughlin

A Dublin grandfather who offered a “cheaper” energy service to householders by tampering with their ESB and Bord Gais meters has been given a suspended sentence.

Engineers from Bord Gais (now Ervia) and the ESB told gardaí that James McLoughlin's (42) activities had been extremely dangerous, with risk of electrocution, gas leaks and explosion.

Detective Garda David Ennis said one woman told gardaí that McLoughlin had interfered with her meter to allow a free flow of gas into her house for €100. The woman said McLoughlin had advised her to top the meter up by €10 a week and Bord Gais “won't come near you”.

McLoughlin, of Summer Street South, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to criminally damaging two Bord Gais meters and an ESB meter at Summer Street South between July 2, 2013 and February 25, 2014.

He also pleaded guilty to possessing a stolen Bord Gais meter at his address on February 25, 2014 and to interfering with a Bord Gais meter and ESB meter between June 26, 2013 and February 25, 2014.

He further pleaded guilty to interfering with a Bord Gais meter at Benbulbin Road, Drimnagh between March 1, and May 31, 2013.

McLoughlin has 42 previous convictions, including road traffic and theft offences.

The court previously heard McLoughlin had serious mental health and addiction problems.

Judge Sarah Berkeley said the offences were serious and premeditated but occurred during a period of extreme instability in McLoughlin's life. She said it had been an extremely dangerous activity.

She noted his personal circumstance were complicated and difficult but that he had been making significant efforts to address his issues and had proven himself in terms of rehabilitation. She said in her view a period of incarceration at this time would be detrimental.

Judge Berkeley imposed a three year sentence which she suspended for four years.

Det Gda Ennis said McLoughlin, who was not qualified to work with meters, had offered householders a “cheaper” energy service than the suppliers.

The detective told Garrett McCormack BL, prosecuting, that he and colleagues set up surveillance on McLoughlin in 2013 after receiving confidential information about a person tampering with meters.

Gardaí observed McLoughlin visiting a number of houses and got a search warrant for his address. A Bord Gais engineer attended the search and discovered two stolen gas meters on the property.

Det Gda Ennis said McLoughlin “exercised his right to silence” on his arrest following this search.

The detective said investigators returned to the house in February 2014 to re-arrest McLoughlin after discovering his fingerprint on a gas meter on Benbulbin Road.

He said the Benbulbin Road address had been written in a diary found during the first raid on his home.

The householder at this premises described how she had paid McLoughlin €100 for a “service”.

A Bord Gais engineer found two more stolen meters during a second search of McLoughlin's house in February 2014.

An ESB engineer also discovered that an electricity meter had been drilled to stop the recorded usage at the premises.

Det Gda Ennis said this engineer had to fit a tamper-proof ESB meter, while Bord Gais had to take extra measures to prevent McLoughlin from interfering with the gas supply.

The detective agreed with Damien Colgan SC, defending, that gardaí had not been prohibited from entering his client's house a second time though they had no search warrant.

Mr Colgan submitted that that McLoughlin, a qualified plumber, had made efforts to deal with his “issues”. He said his client also suffered from depression.

Earlier this month dodgy gas meter installer James McLoughlin was attacked in a brutal cycle by face slashing incident in the south inner city.

The 43-year-old ex-plumber was sliced in the face on Swift’s Alley as he left his partner’s apartment in the Liberties.

The attack was in relation to an unpaid debt and that the assailant lay in wait for his victim to emerge from the Dublin 8 flat, according to reports in the Irish Daily Star. 

McLoughlin was taken to St James’s Hospital for treatment, while his attacker escaped.

“It was a brutal assault that saw the victim suffer substantial injuries that will probably leave his scarred for life”, a source said.

“The type of injuries sustained and type of attack wouldn’t be uncommon for someone who owes money. It’s usually a warning.”