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Fraud accused CAB target leaves animal charity footing €350k bill for looking after 33 seized horses

Last summer, a bench warrant was issued for Catherine O'Brien's arrest after her conviction on 35 counts of animal cruelty over neglected horses

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O’Brien was convicted of mistreating the animals

O’Brien was convicted of mistreating the animals

O’Brien was convicted of mistreating the animals

A woman accused of a series of frauds has left an animal charity footing a €350,000 bill for looking after 33 seized horses.

Last summer, a bench warrant was issued for Criminal Assets Bureau target Catherine O'Brien's arrest after her conviction on 35 counts of animal cruelty over neglected horses at a stable yard in Co. Wexford.

This week, the Cork native also lost a court battle over a €53,000 Land Rover which was bought with the proceeds of crime.

The 44-year-old altered cheques from an agri-business based in Co. Clare to make them payable to her and lodged to her bank account.

The seizure of the emaciated horses in 2019 made headlines due to the number of animals involved at what appeared to be a professional horse-breeding stable.

The Irish House Welfare Trust, which took care of the seized horses, has been left with the animals because ownership has not been transferred.

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Mr Justice Alexander Owens

Mr Justice Alexander Owens

Mr Justice Alexander Owens

 

The charity's CEO, Sharon Power, said because O'Brien's sentencing has not been finalised no order has been made regarding the horses, so they can't re-home the animals.

"The issue of ownership hasn't been resolved, we've been left with a bunch of thoroughbred horses we can't re-home."

"The cost of keeping those horses up until the day of court was nearly €250,000, the cost of keeping them is enormous."

The cost of keeping them has since risen to at least €350,000.

"It's the equivalent of medium- sized commercial operation. It's an enormous cost for a charity to have to hold onto them indefinitely."

Back in 2019, she said she knew almost straight away it was "serious" when she entered the yard at Ballywater, Ballygarrett, near Gorey.

"The horses that were in the stables were the worst ones, they were the thinnest. The owner wasn't providing feed or fodder for the animals."

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In June last year, O'Brien was convicted at Gorey District Court of animal cruelty despite failing to appear at the hearing.

Although the court was told she was in hospital, no evidence of that was given and Judge Brian O'Shea went ahead with the hearing.

Catherine O'Brien, also known as Katie, was convicted of all 35 counts of causing or permitting unnecessary suffering or neglect under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013.

The judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest but said he would await her arrest before sentencing her.

Those convicted of offences under the Act can be fined up to €250,000 or imprisoned for up to five years, and it allows for the convicted person to be bear the costs of the investigation.

The bench warrant is still live, according to sources.

This week at a Proceeds of Crime hearing in the High Court, Judge Alex Owens granted an order sought by Cab to seize a Land Rover bought by Ms O'Brien in 2015.

The Cab's chief officer Chief Superintendent Michael Gubbins provided affidavits which detailed how O'Brien used funds intended for a property transaction that never happened.

She had got a farmer involved in setting up a veterinary business and the property in Waterford was for that firm. Unknown to the farmer the €180,000 transferred to a solicitor's client account had been returned when the sale failed to happen.

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O’Brien was convicted of mistreating the animals

O’Brien was convicted of mistreating the animals

O’Brien was convicted of mistreating the animals

 

Cab's case contended in April 2014 she had bought a Land Rover from a dealership in Cork using a cheque for €47,000 and a trade-in worth €8,500.

She then contacted the dealership asking them not to cash the cheque because her handbag had been stolen.

The money was paid the following month using a cheque drawn down on the veterinary firm solicitor's account.

It was also discovered a cheque written in January 2015 by the farmer for €27 made payable to the Company Records Office, was changed to €21,000 and lodged into O'Brien's account.

It was found that three cheques had been altered with a total value of €46,750.

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