Three men sentenced over oil theft from primary school in Garvagh

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Three men who admitted stealing home heating oil from a primary school attended by one of the trio’s grand-children have been sentenced for the theft.

The home heating oil was stolen from Garvagh Primary School last March.

Sentenced on Friday for their roles in the joint enterprise were 39-year old Stephen Kane from Lyttlesdale in the Garvagh area of Coleraine, Philip Edward McDonald (27) from Causeway Street in Portrush and 54-year old Kenneth Ivan Park, from Glebeview Park in Garvagh.

Park, whose grandson was a pupil at the school when it was targeted, also admitted a charge of going equipped for theft.

A fourth man, 39-year old Kenny Grissam from Ballysally Road in Coleraine, was also due to appear in court but after he failed to appear, an arrest warrant was issued.

Antrim Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that in the early hours of March 12, 2013 police received a report of suspicious activity in the area of the oil tank at Garvagh Primary School. A blue Renault Scenic was seen in the area, and a short time later the vehicle came to the attention of police as it was -4 degrees and all the windows were open.

The car, driven by Park, was stopped and police noticed a strong smell of heating oil.

The four occupants were arrested and when the car was searched a number of items were found on the driver’s side. These items included a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a wrench.

Park’s home was subsequently searched and two 25-litre drums of home heating oil hidden in the wardrobe of an upstairs bedroom.

When the oil tank at the school was examined by police, they discovered it had been damaged. Also found at the scene was the tip of a latex glove, which when analysed was found to bear Grissam’s DNA. When Park and McDonald’s clothing was analysed, heading oil was present on their garments.

A prosecutor told the court that when the four were interviewed, they all initially denied the theft and gave conflicting accounts of their movements that evening. One version was that they had been at the McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Coleraine.

A defence barrister for McDonald said the father of one acknowledged “he shouldn’t have got himself involved in this”, adding it was “obvious” he wasn’t the prime mover. It also emerged the part-time farmer has 36 previous convictions.

Park’s barrister pointed out that his client came before the court with a clear criminal record, and also cited him as the “least sophisticated of all the defendants.” Revealing Park’s grandson attended the primary school which was targeted, the barrister said “it was any act of stupidity on his part to get involving”, adding he was ashamed about the embarrassment he has caused his family.

The barrister representing Kane said his client was a father of three and a man who “should have known better than to get involved in this”.

Passing sentence, Judge Gordon Kerr QC said: “Whilst the amount involved in this case may not be the highest value, the theft of public property could have the potential to inconvenience children being education in the school.”

McDonald was handed a four-month prison sentence, while Kane - who committed the offence whilst under a suspended sentence, was ordered to serve nine months. Park was handed a six-month sentence, which was suspended for two years.