By Michael Kenwood

A north Down farmer found guilty of stealing five pedigree Holstein heifers from his neighbour’s farm, removing their ear tags and fitting them with those of his own herd, has been given community service and probation.

At Ards Magistrate’s Court last Tuesday, 41-year-old Wesley Henderson, of Millbrooke Road, Bangor, faced sentencing on a total of 15 charges.

The case included:

  • Five charges of theft – stealing heifers to the value of £2,500 each, belonging to pedigree breeder Nicholas McCann;
  • Five charges he transferred animal ear tags without the permission of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development;
  • Five charges he removed ear tags without permission between November 10 and 18, 2016.

Cattle theft

Last month he lost a contest in which he claimed an intruder had taken the cattle and changed the neighbour’s ear tags for his own ear tags, just recently bought.

The defence argument insisted the unidentified third party then placed the stolen pedigree cows in his shed, all without his knowledge.

Members of the McCann family and representatives from the Department of Agriculture found the animals in a shed in Henderson’s farm, not long after they went missing, with new ear tags.

Henderson initially claimed they were his own; however, DNA tests proved they were his neighbour’s.

On Tuesday, his lawyer told the court he now “accepted this”, adding the case and media coverage had “a disastrous impact on him” and said his profits had plummeted.

TB tests

The lawyer added: “I have struggled to find clarity about what was exactly going on here…I suspect it had something to do with upcoming TB tests.”

Henderson was now “very vulnerable”, the lawyer explained, and his “mental health had been affected” by the case.

The lawyer added: “The immediate problem is this is a man who looks after a farm solely by himself. The whole thing is somewhat bizarre, but no one, in the end, is at a loss.”

Not guilty plea

District Judge Amanda Brady said to him: “You pleaded not guilty, and it was run as a contest. I will take into account your clear record and personal circumstances – which I will not go into in open court.”

However, there was a degree of planning and subterfuge, and the deception was kept up for a period of time.

She told him probation was advised as being potentially “useful” for him, involving programmes looking at consequential thinking and risk-taking behaviour.

She gave him a combination order of 12 months’ probation and 50 hours of community service.