Co Antrim man had ‘quasi-Noah’s Ark’ of stolen animals

Barney the parrot was among the animals found in Darren McPeake's home
Barney the parrot was among the animals found in Darren McPeake's home

A man who admitted dishonestly receiving a stolen parrot and other animals, which he was keeping in a “quasi-Noah’s Ark” in a Co Antrim housing estate, has escaped being caged himself.

Darren McPeake, 32, an unemployed father of three from Lanntara in Ballymena, appeared at the town’s magistrates’ court on Thursday and was given a six-months jail term, suspended for two years.

He had previously pleaded guilty to a charge of dishonestly receiving ‘stolen goods’ which included the parrot – called Barney – six tortoises, five birds, a python and a chameleon.

The offence was committed in December last year and McPeake was not charged with any role in the actual theft of the animals from a pet shop in Ballymena.

The court heard no one has been made amenable for the break-in at Ladysmith Pet Supplies.

A prosecutor said a number of animals worth over £2,100 were stolen in the raid along with £100 in cash.

When the animals – including Barney – were recovered at McPeake’s home he was also in possession of cannabis and Diazepam.

The prosecutor said the defendant indicated during a police interview that he was not involved in the actual break-in but instead he was asked to “keep the animals” for others.

Defence barrister Stephen Law told the court: “It was somewhat strange that there was a quasi-Noah’s Ark in Lanntara.”

Mr Law said the defendant had been approached and he had offered to keep the “array of animals”.

However, the barrister added: “He wasn’t very good at keeping them. I think five flew away.”

Mr Law said McPeake got himself involved in something he was not very competent in as the animals needed “watered and fed”.

Mr Law said at the time the defendant was mis-using cannabis and Diazepam and said that may have been why he was “harbouring” the animals.

Added the lawyer: “He may have been utilised by others who ultimately had a plan to store these animals and move them on.”

The court heard McPeake had 62 previous convictions but the defendant claimed three of those were a “misprint”.

District Judge Peter King said the custody threshold had been well and truly crossed and he added: “The only reason you are not going to prison is because you had a secondary role in this escapade.”

The judge said if McPeake had been directly involved in the break-in he would have been jailed.

When the case was first mentioned at the same court in March, McPeake failed to show up and an arrest warrant was issued.

A week later he did appear at Ballymena Courthouse upon the instructions of his solicitor and was formally arrested in the building on foot of the warrant.

The stolen animals belonged to Marion McAuley from Ladysmith Pet Supplies in Ballymena.

Barney – an African Grey parrot – was the shop’s official ‘pet’ and was not for sale.

Last December, Marion McAuley told the media of her devastation at the theft of Barney and the other animals.

She said Barney had felt so at home at the pet shop in Ballymena’s Harryville area he often hitched a ride round the store on the shoulders of staff.