A FORMER council worker was jailed for six months for “a uniquely wicked” act, in which he released two live rats in his workplace following a dispute with a colleague.
ohn O’Neill (61) was jailed for six months after Bandon District Court heard Cork County Council faced a €3,000 bill in getting the two rats caught and then in deep-cleaning their offices in Rathbeg, Kinsale.
Council staff were appalled between February 9 and 12, 2021, after discovering rat excrement all over surfaces in the Kinsale office building on entering work each morning.
Rat droppings were found on tables and computer keyboards – and the two large rats had even gnawed through cables and wiring.
O’Neill, of Glanduff, Kilbrittain, Co Cork, pleaded guilty to a single charge of criminal damage.
The charge followed his admission to gardaí that he caught, caged and then released two live rats at the council offices in Rathbeg on February 9.
Judge James McNulty said he could not accept O’Neill had “flipped” over a dispute with a single work colleague which had caused him enormous stress.
The judge noted that to “flip” indicated a single, spontaneous act.
“This offence is uniquely wicked and was committed with malice towards one person and gross recklessness towards many,” he said.
“Mr O’Neill must be held accountable. This was a deliberate act – he had to catch the rats, he had to find the rats, cage them and then bring them to his place of work.”
Judge McNulty said that in trying to target one colleague with whom he was having a difficulty, the defendant actually targeted all of his work colleagues.
“For such an act, the punishment is likely to be severe.”
Judge McNulty said he felt a community service order, a fine or a suspended sentence would not be appropriate given the seriousness of what had happened.
Sergeant Paul Kelly told the court that council staff were appalled to discover rat excrement on most surfaces of the Rathbeg offices on February 10.
The offices had to be deep-cleaned and the council had to hire Rentokill to deal with the rodent problem.
Two large adult rats were caught and killed on February 12.
The deep-cleaning and rodent eradication measures cost the council more than €3,000.
Gardaí were alerted amid suspicions the rodent problem may have been the result of a deliberate act.
Detective Garda Michael Brosnan took photographs of the rat damage in the council offices and then studied CCTV footage from around the premises.
It was discovered that an individual (Mr O’Neill) had parked outside the council offices on February 9.
He was then seen taking an item from his vehicle which he then covered with a coat and brought into the council offices.
CCTV footage then showed him leaving the offices with the same item again covered by a coat.
Gardaí arrested O’Neill on May 24 and he immediately made full and frank admissions about precisely what had happened.
Judge McNulty was told O’Neill had a long-running dispute with a work colleague which had taken a terrible toll on him.
He was unable to sleep at night, received medical treatment for stress and his family were deeply concerned about him.
His doctor “said he just flipped out”.
Sgt Kelly said O’Neill had co-operated fully with gardaí, had entered an early plea and had expressed genuine remorse over his actions.
Defence solicitor Diarmuid O’Shea said his client was a 61-year-old married father who had no previous convictions and had never before come to garda attention.
Until today, he had never even been inside a courtroom.
“It was an act totally out of character for him. He is a man of 61 years. It was a daft thing to do, an appalling, horrible thing to do,” Mr O’Shea said.
“This was a shocking type of behaviour which he does not understand himself.”
“It was extremely stupid behaviour.”
The court was told O’Neill carries enormous remorse over his actions and now wishes he could undo them.
Mr O’Shea said his client had brought €3,000 to court in compensation and felt it was appropriate to retire from the council after 23 years, suffering a financial loss as a result
He also publicly apologised to the council and his former work colleagues for what he did.
Judge McNulty ruled out a suspended sentence as he said the penalty had to act as a deterrent so that others would know such “wicked” behaviour would not go unpunished.
He imposed a six-month prison sentence after taking into account O’Neill’s plea, his co-operation with gardaí, his remorse, his compensation, his previous good behaviour and his age.
Judge McNulty fixed recognisance in case of an appeal.