wooly story | 

Sheep farmer who fleeced girlfriend by selling her car and raiding bank account avoids jail

Keith Crawford bought herd with cheques that bounced but is spared jail again over fears for parents' farm

Keith Crawford

Steven Moore

A sheep farmer who fleeced his partner has escaped going to prison yet again after bleating his parents' farm would suffer.

Keith Crawford - pictured here for the first time - was already under a suspended sentence and going through separate fraud proceedings when he stole thousands of pounds from his then partner's bank account.

The sticky-fingered fraudster, from Kinmeen Road, Derrylin, Co Fermanagh, also sold her car and kept the proceeds and then wrote cheques that bounced to 'repay' her.

But we can reveal the 46-year-old has been telling 'woolly' stories for over 15 years and has more than 50 criminal convictions, mainly for fraud and driving offences.

He once literally 'fleeced' one farmer when he agreed to pay £51,800 (€62k) for 370 sheep - but initially refused to pay and then wrote fraudulent cheques which bounced.

That was back in 2017 and once again he escaped going to jail by claiming in court his parents' farm would suffer if he was sent to prison.

A judge even told him this week during his latest fraud case: "The only conclusion to be drawn is that for many years of your adult life you appear to have felt free to treat other people's money as your own."

In fact, the Sunday World first wrote about his life of crime back in 2009, when he was banned by a judge in Co Cavan from ever keeping livestock again in the South.

Farmer Keith Crawford

At that time Crawford, whose farm straddles the Fermanagh- Cavan border, was convicted of failing to register, record the birth, tag or test animals, contrary to the bovine regulations.

He was also convicted on a charge of failing to dispose of animal carcasses, contrary to EU and Irish legislation.

An inspector from the Irish Department of Agriculture told the court at the time that such activity posed a huge threat to the whole structure of the Republic's livestock industry.

But Crawford, who despite his list of convictions has never been photographed before, was caught on the hoof when we finally tracked him down.

We asked him if he wanted to apologise for stealing from his own partner or if he wanted to explain what drove him to repeatedly commit criminal acts which left many people out of pocket.

But a brusque Crawford showed little remorse, saying: "What's this about? Why do you want to write about this case? I've nothing to say to you about anything."

Earlier in the week Dungannon Crown Court heard how between June 2016 and September 2017, Crawford dishonestly used his partner's bank details and presented a cheque which couldn't be paid due to insufficient funds.

He also presented a cheque for £5,000 (€5,900) from a closed account and stole £2,500 (€2,950) from the victim.

Crawford initially pleaded not guilty to all allegations, but on the morning the trial was to begin he accepted a number of charges, while the remainder were not proceeded with.

The court heard he was in a relationship with the victim for around three years, during which she noticed money missing from her bank account.

On approaching Crawford, he persuaded her it was a mistake and he would repay the funds.

When the relationship ended, the victim discovered he'd stolen more than £6,000 and that Crawford had noted her bank details and fraudulently used them numerous times.

He repaid her with a £5,000 (€5,900) cheque, but this bounced as the bank account had been closed.

He also sold her vehicle and kept the proceeds.

While accepting immediate imprisonment would detrimentally impact on Crawford's management of his parents' farm and business, Brian Sherrard QC warned: "You are in an extremely perilous situation. The court is mindful not only of the financial impact on the victim but also the emotional damage."

Taking on board the "compelling difficulties that would arise" should the defendant be jailed, Judge Sherrard imposed a sentence of 18 months, which he agreed to suspend for three years.

Compensation totalling £8,600 (€10,300) is to be paid to the victim within 28 days.

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