A Mayo farmer on trial for taking part in a “vigilante mob” attack on security men at a repossessed farm told gardaí he was at the scene of the alleged attack and that “it just went out of control”.
Martin O'Toole (58), of Stripe, Irishtown, Claremorris, Co Mayo, is charged with false imprisonment of and assault causing harm to four security personnel at Falsk, Co Roscommon on December 16th, 2018.
He is also charged with aggravated burglary and four charges of arson of four vehicles at the property. He is further indicted on charges of criminal damage, violent disorder, robbery of a wristwatch from one of the security guards and, finally, cruelty to an animal which was fatally struck during the incident.
The trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court has heard that at around 5am on December 16th, 2018, a group of approximately 30 armed men, some wearing balaclavas, arrived at the repossessed rural property at Falsk, just outside Strokestown and attacked security guards there. The house had been forcibly repossessed five days earlier.
Co-accused men Patrick Sweeney (44), of High Cairn, Ramelton, Co Donegal; Paul Beirne (56), of Croghan, Boyle, Co Roscommon; and David Lawlor (43), of Bailis Downs, Navan, Co Meath, are each charged with the same offences. All four defendants have pleaded not to the 17 charges put to them.
On day 20 of the trial on Tuesday, the jury heard details of three interviews of Mr O'Toole by gardaí at Castlerea garda station on January 10th, 2019.
Mr O'Toole told gardaí that he owned lands in Claremorris and had “a few horses and a few cattle”. He said he married in 1991 but he now lived alone.
He referred to court proceedings and said he was jailed at one point and that during his incarceration, 20 cattle he had in a shed were left to die. Asked if he and his wife were legally separated, he told gardaí: “We are married until the day we die – there is a contract and what judges say is shite.”
He told gardaí, “my court is common law, God's law” and said that the law in the courts was “pirate law, the law of the sea”.
Asked about the eviction at Falsk and about “vulture funds”, Mr O'Toole said: “I can see a full-blooded civil war out of this. I can ask you for water but if I haven’t drank for days, I am going to take it by force.”
He said he had first heard about the eviction online and watched video footage which he said showed “men being dragged out of their houses and being bet up”.
He said the eviction was “people coming in from another country, that was an invasion, that was an international incident”. The jury has heard that a number of the security guards were from Northern Ireland.
He told gardaí: “They were brought in to terrorise people. Your job is to protect us, we have no protection. The guards stood by, that was wrong, wrong, wrong”.
During his second interview, the accused repeatedly told gardaí that he wasn't at the property during the attack, saying “I was never on the property, I never fired a gun in my life”.
In a third interview, he again denied being present. Gardaí then showed him footage from a body-cam worn by one of the security guard showing people bursting into the kitchen through a back door wielding sticks and a running chainsaw.
After viewing the footage, Mr O'Toole repeatedly said he wasn't on the footage, saying: “That's not me, I wasn't there.”
Gardaí put it to him that it was clearly him, that he hadn't known the video existed and that “either you are in over your head or you organised it”.
“You are not assaulting anyone... you came to the house to scare these fellas, run them,” Detective Garda Brendan McGrath asked the suspect.
Mr O'Toole then conceded that the man in the footage “looks like me” and that he did go to the house. He said he went first to the home of another man and they drove their vehicles to a meeting point at Elfin mart.
He said at Elfin somebody gave him a stick to carry and that he was then put into a car with three or four other men “all strangers” and “we were told just where to go”. He said their car was last in the convoy of vehicles travelling to Falsk and the driver took a wrong turn and they got lost.
“When we got there, it was nearly over,” he said. He said he went round the back of the house, saying: “I just went in for a look”.
Asked if he intended to use the stick he was holding, he said, “it was just given to me” and that it was more to defend himself with.
He said he saw that “they were bringing out the two UDR men or whatever they were”.
“It just went out of control I suppose... I thought it was going to be a show of hands. I just filled in a body and did my job.
“I was just doing what I was told, standing up for the people,” he told gardaí.
Asked what he thought about what took place, he told gardaí “it was your job to step in [at the eviction], this would never have happened.”
The trial continues.