NewsCrime Desk

Criminals targeting farmsteads risking death as farmers take up arms

Crime DeskBy Eamon Dillon
Howard Cranston tells our man that his son William won't want to talk to us
Howard Cranston tells our man that his son William won't want to talk to us

CRIMINALS targeting farmsteads are dicing with death, as more farmers carry shotguns to protect their property and livestock.

There are also fears that hard-working farmers are being betrayed by people within their own community who tip off crime gangs.

This week the Sunday World got a frosty welcome at a farm which is home to an alleged key figure in the movement of stolen cattle.

William Cranston’s home farm straddles the border between Monaghan and south Armagh.

He was convicted last year of selling three cattle that he knew to be stolen from a farm in Drumconrath, Co. Meath, in September 2014.

Cranston was sentenced last October to five months imprisonment, but launched an appeal which has yet to be heard in court.

The conviction followed a joint investigation between Gardaí and the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) of the Department of Agriculture.

There was no sign of Cranston at his Skerrymore farm in Drumacrib, Castleblayney, when the Sunday World called this week.

A gentleman who declined to identify himself said that Cranston would have no interest in talking to the Sunday World about the case.

“Youse would only put gossip in the newspaper. Shite, and I know that, you wouldn’t do him any good,” he said.

It later emerged the gentleman is Cranston’s father Howard, who also has a record as a rogue farmer.

Last year he was fined €1,000 after he admitted driving his vehicle at a car in which there were two Department of Agriculture officials. 

The officials had visited his Skerrymore farm to “investigate livestock issues”, it was heard in court.

Cranston pleaded guilty to a careless driving charge after it had been reduced from one of dangerous driving.

He also admitted a charge of engaging in threatening and abusive behaviour.

Gardaí said that Cranston drove his car at the officials’ vehicle and shouted abuse at them.

It appeared he had “an issue” with the officials.

Cranston denied driving his vehicle at the other vehicle, but had claimed he was “trying to flag them down” on the roadway and apologised for his behaviour.

His son William received €54,392.19 in subsidies last year from the Department of Agriculture, although the payments were reported to have since been re-examined by government officials.

Meanwhile, it emerged this week that the fear of crime is still a serious issue among farmers in the border region.

This was supported by a survey which has shown the vast majority believe they should be allowed to use guns to defend their property.

Macra na Feirme’s research also found half of the farmers who responded had been victims of rural crime.

Bert Stewart, the Irish Farmers Association regional chairman in Monaghan for Ulster and north Leinster, said there are genuine fears someone will get shot.

“There’s still a fear factor out there among rural people and among the farming community that there will be someone seriously injured or killed,” he told the Sunday World this week.

“If farmers have any suspicion of anyone near their stock or farmyard the first thing they bring with them is their shotgun.

“There is a fear out there that something is going to happen,” he added.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already to be honest,” admitted the dairy farmer.

The border counties have been among the worst affected by livestock thefts and there is concern that criminals have local knowledge.

“There would be a fear of local knowledge of information being passed on in some instances, particularly in the livestock end of it – there has to be some local knowledge,” said Bert.

Monaghan farmer James Moffat saw eight bulls worth more than €11,000 stolen from his farm in Ballybay last September.

Some of the animals had only been on his property for two days when they were stolen in an early-morning raid.

Two days later another six cattle were taken from a farm in Corduff in a second theft, which left local farmers living on edge.

The level of cattle rustling in the region led to the setting up of a special investigation task force last year that includes the Garda, PSNI, Revenue and Customs, as well as their counterparts in Northern Ireland.

Also included were officials from the Departments of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority from both sides of the border.

Task force inquiries have stretched from counties Cavan and Monaghan to Donegal and included Roscommon and Longford, while also extending northwards to Tyrone and
Armagh.

Bert Stewart said the efforts by the authorities on both sides of the border has curbed the activities of the rustlers, but there are still isolated cases.

“There have been a couple of prosecutions and the Department of Agriculture would be watching a couple of individuals very closely in conjunction with the guards, maybe that has helped,” he said.