A man who shot his neighbour’s pet dog in front of his “horrified” granddaugher in a bid to protect over a dozen pedigree sheep has been told he is not a “fit and proper person” to hold a firearm.
Seventy-five-year-old Liam Browne, of Clonca, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, saw his appeal against the revocation of a firearms certificate turned down by Judge Seamus Hughes at last week’s sitting of Longford District Court.
Mr Browne had taken his appeal against Granard Superintendent Seamus Boyle after the garda chief used his powers to refuse an application by the defendant after three separate allegations relating to the alleged misuse of a firearm were made against him.
Taking the stand, Supt Boyle said one of those incidents took place in July 2018 when a neighbour complained Mr Browne allegedly produced a gun at him in a “threatening manner”.
When questioned over the incident, Supt Boyle said Mr Browne denied the allegation and instead stated it was he, in fact, who had been verbally abused.
A file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who later ruled that no charges should result from the incident, the court heard.
Supt Boyle added that when an officer from Granard garda station conducted further investigations, two firearms were found in the defendant’s home with a fully loaded rifle being uncovered inside an unlocked safe.
Supt Boyle also told of allegations, again by the same alleged victim, that Mr Browne had allegedly driven by him on a road and pointed a gun out the window of his vehicle.
Like the aforementioned incident, a file was sent to the DPP with the same result of no prosecution being directed against the pensioner.
An earlier incident, dating back to December 2016 was likewise alluded to in which Mr Browne shot a pet dog in front of its owner and granddaugher over fears the red setter was worrying his livestock.
“He (Mr Browne) shot the dog there and then,” said Supt Boyle, adding the puppy was still alive at the time.
Supt Boyle said after shooting the dog, Mr Browne picked up the animal with a “four pronged fork” and dropped it at the roadway in front of the young girls before walking away.
Judge Hughes remarked his surprise at how Mr Browne was able to shoot the young dog and deposit it in such a swift and inexorable fashion.
“Isn’t it unusual a man would walk around a field with a loaded gun and in the other hand he has a fork, that’s highly unusual,” said the judge.
Supt Boyle revealed the dog concerned died a short time later.
Mr Browne’s defence solicitor took to his feet a short time later to contend the dog’s owner had been urged by his client to beckon her dog from the field.
“The dog continued to worry the sheep on that occasion,” he said.
“He (Mr Browne) went into the house (to retrieve a gun) and found the dog was still worrying the sheep.”
Supt Boyle, however, implied Mr Browne’s actions on the day were excessive and unjustifiable.
“I am from a farming background and I have seen the impact of dogs worrying sheep,” he said in response.
Mr Browne’s solicitor also claimed video footage taken from the alleged incident in which his client allegedly pointed a gun at a neighbour was unsubstantiated.
Equally, a further alleged incident in which Mr Browne was verbally abusive to the same man was just as unfounded especially given claims it was his client which had, in fact, been the subject of abuse.
Supt Boyle replied, saying whatever about those claims, concerns over an unsecured firearm being kept inside a private dwelling were allegations he took “very seriously” when granting gun licenses.
“Any child or intruder could walk in and pick up the gun,” he said.
“In my opinion, that is very unsafe.”
It was revealed Mr Browne had previously kept a shotgun and rifle on his property, a number which Supt Boyle said was not unusual in the Granard Garda District.
In his own evidence, Mr Browne defended his actions in deciding to shoot the young dog and did so only as a last resort.
“I was out in the yard doing something and I heard a dog barking so I went out to the road,” he recalled.
Upon looking out, Mr Browne said despite repeated attempts to both the dog owner and his granddaughter, whom he claimed was having a “great laugh” he was left with no option but to pull the trigger.
“I said: ‘If you don’t get that dog out of there, I will shoot him’, but they didn’t pass one bit of remarks.”
Mr Browne said he was worried about the effect the dog’s antics were having on his pedigree sheep, which had set him back €850 a piece.
“The sheep were in a ball and he (dog) was biting at them,” said Mr Browne, adding a large cohort of them were around three months from lambing.
Under questioning from Judge Hughes, Mr Browne was asked why he didn’t consider other measures before resorting to shooting the dog in front of two young girls.
“They weren’t controlling him,” he said. “I carried the dog on the fork back out the field and left him at the side of the field.”
Those actions came in for sustained criticism from Judge Hughes.
“Why didn’t you invite the two girls into the field?” he asked.
You just dropped the dog at the side of the field and walked off. I won’t be giving you any gun license if that is the type of man you are.”
Mr Browne, who revealed to having a farm holding of some 250 cattle, contended the episode had left him out of pocket to the tune of €15,000.
He also claimed he had been warned that he would be sorted out “once and for all” by a neighbour after silage in one of his fields had been bailed by mistake.
In delivering his verdict, Judge Hughes said he had to be cautious in making any remarks which could be viewed as being ageist.
He also expressed his “concern” at an earlier revelation by Supt Boyle over the large number of individuals in the Granard Garda District who had more than one firearm to their name.
“I was concerned to hear there are many people in this region that have four or five or more firearms and that is very concerning and is something in due course, like there has in the past, been a national campaign to recall some of those,” he said.
Judge Hughes added Mr Browne’s decision to house firearms in an unsecured location was an aggravating factor he could not ignore in considering the defendant’s request to reinstate his license.
“You kept your gun safe opened and you were the optimum target as an old bachelor living in rural Ireland for a break in primarily by Dublin gangs,” he said.
“You made it so easy for your gun to be stolen and furthermore opened.
“You cannot have four eyes in your head and any young visitor who came to your house could have been distracted by you and shows a total and very large level of irresponsibility. Anybody who holds a gun in their house must comply with the regulations.”
Judge Hughes said he was most alarmed by the elderly farmer’s motives for shooting a family pet dog in cold blood and deciding to dump its body at the side of the road at the feet of its owner and his own granddaughter.
“They must have been horrified,” he said.
“I can understand farmers killing dogs that are worrying their sheep but the cold callousness that was shown to not invite them into the field and explain and justify your actions.
“Instead you picked up the dog, most likely still alive and carried them on a fork to the roadway and dropped it at their feet and you walked away without getting into any conversation.
“There was no remorse by you or no efforts to explain your actions since to your grandchild. Taking in totality of all that into conversation I don’t find you to be a fit and proper person to hold a firearm in the future.”