Farmer walks free after being cleared of criminal damage to mother's home

Farmer walks free after being cleared of criminal damage to mother's home

Gordon Deegan

A west Clare farmer who caused €55,814 worth of damage to his 80-year-old mother’s house today walked free from court.

This followed a jury taking just over 30 minutes to deliver a unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdict and clear John Morrissey (53) of causing criminal damage with a JCB to the home of his mother, Mary at Alva, Cooraclare on December 13th 2019.

At Ennis Circuit Court, Mr Morrissey wept and then smiled before being embraced by his wife, Rachel in court after the verdict was read out. Speaking outside court, Mr Morrissey of Clonreddan, Cooraclare said: “Right was proved.”

He said that he was “delighted” with the outcome and thanked the jury for their verdict.

One of 13 siblings, Mr Morrissey was first arrested by Gardai on the day of his mother, Mary's burial on May 5th last after a separate flashpoint and has spent almost the last year in custody pending the trial which was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Midlands prison time

The father of seven didn’t seek bail during his time in custody and on his almost year-long time spent in the Midlands prison, Mr Morrissey said outside court on Thursday: “I’m resilient.”

Four members of the Morrissey family gave evidence on behalf of the State in the case including former Clare footballer, Tom Morrissey who shared the house with his mother, Mary that was extensively damaged.

Outside court, Mr Morrissey confirmed that relations with some family members are not good.

Mary Morrissey was suffering with dementia when John Morrissey damaged the home with the rented JCB in December 2019 and was in respite care at the time.

In his closing argument to the jury on Thursday, counsel for Mr Morrissey, Pat Whyms BL stated that Mr Morrissey carried out the damage to the home so that Mary would get 24-hour care as she would no longer be able to live in the home.

Protect his mother

Instructed by solicitor, Stiofan Fitzpatrick, Mr Whyms stated: “In his own mind, John Morrissey was acting to protect his mother who he adored and cared for.”

Mr Whyms told the jury that you have a lawful excuse to damage property if you are protecting someone else. He stated: “It is immaterial if the belief is justified or not - only if it is sincerely held.”

He stated that the case was "unusual and sad for obvious reasons" and the facts were not in dispute. Mr Whyms said that Mr Morrissey “attacked a house that he built himself for his own mother - just imagine what it would take to do to that".

Mr Whyms sid Mr Morrissey had never come to the attention of the gardaií before this incident and had led a perfectly normal life until then.

Mr Morrissey is a father of seven with six children aged between 27 and 13 surviving after one child died after only a few weeks old. He was described Mr Morrissey as a pillar of the community and a good citizen “who had some issues on this particular day”.

Mr Whyms stated that Mary had moved in with John and his family in 2016 and had received 24-hour care from them before returning to her own home.

Family farm

John had inherited the 115-acre family farm in 2003 along with two houses. Mr Whyms stated that an insurance company paid for the damage to the home.

Earlier in court on Thursday, the court was briefly adjourned after John Morrissey left the courtroom while counsel for the State, Lorcan Connolly BL urged the jury to find Mr Morrissey guilty.

Later when he came back into the courtroom and in the absence of the jury, Mr Morrissey explained to Judge Brian O’Callaghan why he suddenly left the courtroom when he said: “I was nearly gone crying. I couldn’t listen to this drivel.”

Instructed by State Solicitor for Clare, Aisling Casey, Mr Connolly later told the jury: "How could an adoring son do this to his mother’s house and she in the twilight years of her life? …There was no lawful excuse for that carry on."

In evidence on Wednesday, John Morrissey’s brother, Martin told the jury that his brother, John “adored my mother and she adored him. They had more in common than the rest of us”.

The only witness for the defence, Martin said that John told him on the night that he had damaged the house “Martin, they have to take care of my mother now”.

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