Stole 28,000 litres of fuel - but no fine or jail

A 53-year-old Donegal businessman was spared a prison sentence or fine today (Thursday) after admitting stealing more than 28,000 litres of diesel from a fuel company.

A 53-year-old Donegal businessman was spared a prison sentence or fine today (Thursday) after admitting stealing more than 28,000 litres of diesel from a fuel company.

Donal Quinn, of Trummon West, appeared at Donegal Circuit Court to face 24 counts of theft from E & J Oil, Ballymagroarty Hill, Ballintra between May 1 and May 4, 2010. He pleaded guilty to four representative counts, ie taking 48.51 litres of fuel worth €58.89 on May 1, taking 900.30 litres worth €1089.36 on both May 2 and May 3, and taking 900.27 litres worth €1089.31 on May 4.

Counsel for the defence, Peter Nolan BL, told the court that “there was a history” to this “highly unusual case”.

His client had been making deliveries for Kilbarron Products T/A O’Donnell’s Bakery, which has since gone into liquidation and been taken over by new management. Over an eighteen month period that company built up a debt of more then €51,000 with him. He had tried to recoup the monies by various means but to no avail.

On Friday, May 1, he called to collect a cheque for €3,000 but the money was not there and the director, Charlie O’Donnell, was out of the country, uncontactable until the following Tuesday.

Mr Quinn told the court: “At that stage, to be honest, I just couldn’t take any more. I couldn’t even give my wife anything to help out a bit at home. “My thought was that I could use the O’Donnell’s key/card to take out fuel from E & J Oil in the amount that they owed me.”

Mr Quinn said he consulted a solicitor who advised him that the oil could be used as ‘a lien’ on the money he was owed.

“He never mentioned theft or stealing. If I had, I never would have done it,” Mr Quinn said. His intention, he explained, was to recover his debt from O’Donnell’s not to steal from E & J Oil.

When the gardaí were called, Mr Quinn immediately admitted his actions and apologised. He disclosed the location of the fuel and 25,000 litres were recovered. His business subsequently closed and both he and his family had suffered considerably as a result of the publicity surrounding his actions.

Judge Donagh McDonagh said this was “one of the most unusual cases” he had ever seen. Mr Quinn, who ran a very small business, was owed very large sums of money by O’Donnell’s who acted “in a grossly high-handed, disdainful manner” toward him, the judge continued.

Noting that the fuel was “at all times” the property of E & J Oil, Judge McDonagh said what Mr Quinn did “was wrong”. However, he added, “it would be invidious to impose any further penalty”.

He applied the Probation of Offenders Act, which means that a conviction will be recorded in respect of each of the four representative charges. However, if Mr Quinn does not re-offend for two years, his record will then be expunged.

The new management of O’Donnell’s Bakery, Andrew McElhinney and Mark Kelly, took over the business in January 2011 and it should be noted that they had no involvement with any of the circumstances relating to the court cases.