No remorse | 

Councillor convicted of assaulting brother and nephew over bitter farm dispute avoids jail

Frank Roche, who has 19 previous convictions, received a four-month sentence which was suspended for 20 months

Councillor Frank Roche

Ralph Riegel

A Councillor convicted of assaulting his brother and nephew as part of a bitter farm inheritance dispute has avoided a prison sentence.

Councillor Frank Roche (58) received a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 20 months, after Judge Alec Gabbett expressed concern that the Cork County Council member had not demonstrated remorse or empathy over what had happened.

Roche of Ballyadeen, Castletownroche, Co Cork had denied assaulting his brother, David Roche, and his nephew Colm Roche, in 2020.

However, he was convicted before Fermoy District Court of assaulting both men and of engaging in threatening, abusive or insulting language contrary to Section 6 of the Public Order Act.

All three charges arose from an incident at Ballyadeen in north Cork on January 18, 2020 which was linked to a long-running land inheritance dispute.

After a special court sitting to deal with the matter last November, the councillor was convicted on all three charges by Judge Gabbett.

"He has shown little or no empathy," the judge noted from a Probation and Welfare Service (PWS) report.

Judge Gabbett considered a victim impact statement – which was not read out in court – and said he was concerned by the proximity between the parties in north Cork.

He also noted that the defendant has 19 previous convictions, the majority for Road Traffic Act offences, but three for assaults.

Defence counsel Alan O'Dwyer BL said his client was a very proud man who was convinced he was the victim in the entire land dispute.

"He is apologetic and he wishes he was never in this position," he said.

But he said his client remains adamant he did not assault his brother or nephew.

Further, Mr O'Dwyer said his client was a hard-working man who had dedicated himself, through his Cork County Council work, to helping the community and, in particular, rural residents caught up in farming disputes and mental health issues.

Judge Gabbett said he acknowledged the good work done by the defendant in the community and the fact he has no addiction or mental health issues.

"My difficulty is that he seems to get himself in a lot of scrapes.

“This is a family dispute. [But] it is not uncommon in Ireland," he said.

"The most troubling aspect of the (PWS) report is that he is not showing any remorse or empathy over his actions."

Judge Gabbett said he wanted to impose a sentence suspended for a period of time so it would offer deterrence value.

He also noted that the defendant had "an anti-authoritarian attitude”.

"The intention is to deter further offending and try to deal with it on that basis."

Judge Gabbett warned Roche that the original land dispute was "long past mediation”.

"He has to accept that this is a lost cause."

He imposed a four-month prison sentence but suspended it for 20 months on condition the defendant enters a bond to be of good behaviour.

Councillor Roche represents the Fermoy Municipal Area on Cork County Council as an independent member.

He is an agricultural contractor but, the court was previously told, had an acrimonious relationship with his two brothers, David and Patrick, since they were left the family farm by their father, David Senior.

Their father had bequeathed half the family farm to David and half to Patrick but had left nothing to his son Frank beyond a site for a house.

This was because of the problematic relationship he had with Frank, which stretched back over 30 years.

David Roche told the court how, on the day in question, he and his son Colm were driving along a road near the farm at Ballyadeen when he spotted a silver jeep that had pulled in.

They were on their way to the farm to pay contractors for work that had been done.

He said he lowered the passenger window of his own 4x4 to speak to the driver, whom he didn’t recognise.

David said his brother Frank then came around the back of the jeep and grabbed his son Colm in a headlock and tried to pull him out through the window.

The court heard Colm managed to break free of Frank Roche, who then started to punch him.

David Roche confronted his brother, who then began striking him.

Colm Roche managed to come behind his uncle and grab his arms and they tussled into a field before Frank Roche broke free.

“I shouted at him to go away and leave us alone and to live his own life, but he told me he would die on the farm and that I was a lousy bastard and that we would all rot in hell,” David Roche told the court.

David added that he feared for his own safety and that of his son.

Colm Roche corroborated his father’s version of events and said he filmed the final moments of the exchange on his phone.

A video clip was played for Judge Gabbett in which Frank Roche could be heard shouting repeatedly that he hoped both Colm and David Roche would “rot in f***ing hell”.

Frank Roche vehemently denied the charges.

He said he was driving with his friend when he spotted an orange spanner lying on the road which he thought might be his.

The defendant said he got out to pick it up when David Roche drove at him and tried to run him down.

“He has a habit of driving at me at high speed... I am afraid of my brother. They have ruined my life and cost me my farm and now they want to do down my character and get me out of Cork County Council because it gives me a platform to highlight farm abuse,” he said.

Inspector Tony Sullivan asked why he told gardaí that he did not want to make a statement when they contacted him?

Frank Roche said he was fearful of his brother and he simply wanted to get on with his life.

“I don’t want to be here today, I want to be able to get on with my life and get on with my role as a public representative helping other people in my community,” he said.

Judge Gabbett said there was a clear conflict between the evidence of David Roche and Colm Roche and that of Frank Roche.

“I find them (father and son) credible and, as far as I’m concerned, an assault took place,” Judge Gabbett said.

“This is a classic family dispute and it needs to be addressed – we have a situation here where it could escalate and people could hurt each other.”

The defendant has three previous convictions for assaults, one of which involved a three-month suspended sentence, as well as multiple Road Traffic Act convictions.

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