Jury retires without reaching verdict on vets accused of NI livestock scam.
Irish Examiner, 14/2/2002
A jury debating the fate of two vets accused of helping to swindle the Ministry of Defence out of millions of pounds in a massive dead livestock scam, last night, retired without reaching a verdict.

A jury debating the fate of two vets accused of helping to swindle the Ministry of Defence out of millions of pounds in a massive dead livestock scam, last night, retired without reaching a verdict. In one year alone, Edward Rooney and Seamus Fegan, claimed to have carried out 17,000 post mortems on animals allegedly killed because of low-flying British Army helicopters in Northern Ireland's notorious "Bandit Country," South Armagh. The pair frequently claimed to have carried out more than 100 PM's in a single day despite the fact that experts testified that it would take 30 minutes for a proper investigation into the cause of death. Between 1993 and 1995 the Ministry of Defence paid out more than £15m, almost all to farmers in South Armagh, most of whom had death certificates signed by Fegan and Rooney. As soon as the police investigation began, the figure for 1996 fell to just over £2m and this year the pay-out will be around £300,000. The vets along with farmer Liam McCullough and his wife, Patricia, both aged 45, face 62 specimen charges of conspiracy to defraud the MoD during. The trial at Downpatrick Crown Court in Co. Down has been going on for five months. The allegations were made after an Army clerk entering records on to a computer for the first time discovered that one farmer had received compensation for one cow - identified by the number on its ear tag - at least six times. That sparked off the police investigation code-named Operation SADDLE (South Armagh Deception in Deceased Livestock Enquiry) and at once the level of claims dropped dramatically and continued to fall as most of the major claimants suddenly decided that very few of their herds and flocks were helicopter victims. In the mid-1990's, the MoD's advance budgeting had allowed for payments totalling £15m this year if claims had continued to rise. The court was told the MoD was generous to the point of recklessness in the pay-outs. They made no independent checks on the death of animals. They accepted the PM results automatically and they were paying more than twice the market price for animals. For a dead ram worth less than £100 at market, the MoD paid £250. In all of Northern Ireland, there were successful claims for 21,500 animals. Of these, 20,000 were in South Armagh with Fegan or Rooney signing 17,000 of the post-mortems, as well as performing legitimate tasks for the Dept of Agriculture. The court heard that on August 6, 1994, Fegan, a fanatical golfer, signed for 329 investigations - 178 of them on turkeys. That same day his practice hosted a big golf tournament locally although there was no firm evidence that Fegan was present. But between May 30 and June 4, it is alleged that he had gone with friends on a golfing holiday in the west coast of Ireland. Green fees payments and credit card receipts showed that he had been playing some of the best courses in the country. In that time Fegan, described by contemporaries at Trinity College, Dublin, as "a wizard with animals", claimed to have examined 196 animals for 13 different farmers. On October 16, he signed 36 certificates for three successful claimants while he was actually in the Isle of Man with a golfing society called "The Real McCoys." That same month Rooney took a break in Amsterdam during which he claimed to have verified 25 successful claims for six clients. Most of the claims were for sheep, stampeded by the noise of helicopters into rivers and lakes where they allegedly drowned. But police brought in an international expert who flew over the countryside and said that the animals could not have died in such numbers at the places where they allegedly drowned. "It is impossible and implausible that so many animals would die in exactly the same manner on the same day at different locations. "Almost every sheep was drowned with no other injuries which is also virtually impossible," he concluded. In the middle of that dry summer, the McCulloughs claimed for more than 200 sheep, all drowned. D/S Brownlee travelled to Cumbria at the height of the foot and mouth crisis to see for himself the signs of animal disposal. Back in South Armagh, he could find no traces of what the McCulloughs had done with the 5000 animals they had allegedly lost. The jury will return this morning.