A man who assaulted a store detective after being asked to leave a Lidl store where he had taken his pet sheep called ‘Chops’ on a lead, has avoided jail.
The extraordinary incident involving Andrew Meneice (33), of Glenbush Drive, Portrush, happened at the Lidl store in the County Antrim seaside town.
Some of the scenes were captured on camera and caused a sensation on social media.
Meneice had previously been given a four months jail term last year but had been released on bail pending appeal.
He was back in Coleraine Courthouse on Wednesday at the County Court for his appeal against sentence which resulted in Judge Geoffrey Miller QC suspending the four months jail term for two years.
Meniece was also given a two year Restraining Order which bans him from taking ‘Chops’ into any retail premises apart from a sheep mart.
The defendant had originally been taken to court following the Lidl incident and charged with two assaults on the store detective; being disorderly and resisting a police officer in the execution of his duty.
Last year he pleaded guilty to resisting the police officer but contested the other three charges.
At Coleraine Magistrates Court last year he was found guilty of one of the assaults and being disorderly. The other assault charge was dismissed.
Sentencing the defendant at the Magistrates Court last year, District Judge Liam McNally had said because he convicted him he couldn’t give him any credit for pleading guilty.
He said: “You paraded around with a sheep, you were making comments about ‘not buying Lidl lamb’. You had no right to be in there with the sheep.”
The judge said the sheep began nibbling at food and Meneice was making “pedantic” comments about the store’s animal policy.
“Staff made reasonable efforts to get you to leave,” said the judge but Meneice then struck an employee with his fists and struck him with a metal pole.
Handing down a four months prison term, the judge had added: “That’s a situation which this court will not tolerate”.
Judge McNally had then asked if he had any powers to restrict the defendant having the sheep in public places.
Defence barrister Eoghan Devlin had told the Magistrates Court ‘Chops’ was legitimately registered with the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development.
The judge said he was making a two year restraining order banning Meneice from taking his sheep into Lidl before adding he didn’t want the defendant turning up at a Sainsburys or Tesco and made the ban to include any retail business other than a ‘sheep mart’.
Also at the court last year, Lidl store detective David Bennett told the court he saw a “male with a sheep on a lead” entering the Portrush shop and Meneice, “whose eyes were glazed” and appeared intoxicated, became agitated and verbally abusive after being told to leave.
Mr Bennett explained that because of health and safety and hygienic reasons he “couldn’t bring a sheep into the store”.
Mr Bennett said the defendant began shouting and when he was told the police were being called his voice became “more raised”.
Mr Bennett said he blocked a punch from the defendant and after being led outside Meneice continued to swing punches at him before the defendant broke off a part of a display and struck him with a metal bar which he partially blocked with his arm but was hit on the face.
The store detective said Meneice also tried to spit on him during a barrage of verbal abuse.
He said he took the defendant to the ground in a controlled fashion and Meneice threatened that when he got up he would “kill” the store detective.
Mr Bennett denied a defence claim that Meneice only became agitated after being placed in a headlock as both him and the sheep were dragged out the door.
Mr Bennett said Meneice had made reference to guide dogs being allowed in the store and that although other dogs were banned the defendant had claimed: “This was a sheep not a dog”.
The store detective said he took action to remove the defendant and the sheep when it attempted to eat food in the supermarket.
Store manager Tomas Fusek said when he told Meneice the only animals allowed in were guide dogs the defendant, who was carrying a tin of Harp lager, had told him to “speak English”.
He added the defendant was “totally out of order” because “you don’t normally come to a store with a sheep on a lead”.
Lidl customer assistant Jonathan Gerrish told last summer’s hearing that Meneice had earlier been in the store that day with his sheep, saying: “Save the sheep” and “Don’t buy lamb in Lidl” and although police had been called the defendant returned.
He said he saw the defendant lash out at Mr Bennett with a pole and also use the pole in a “stabbing motion”.
Meneice told the court last year he had gone to the store because he had been drinking whilst on medication and said it was a “spur of the moment” decision.
He told the court the sheep was called ‘Chops’ and he had her since she was a day old and was going to give her back but he “got attached to her”.
He alleged that in the store the sheep, a “defenceless animal”, was “punched” during the incident which made him “upset”.
He claimed he had been grabbed by Mr Bennett and pushed out of the store and outside, after falling near bags of compost, he grabbed a plastic sign but couldn’t remember doing anything with it.
Meneice had also originally denied hitting, punching or spitting at the store detective.
In mitigation, Mr Devlin had said he accepted his client had acted in an “odd way”.
Speaking after the court last year, the defendant revealed he was an animal-lover and after getting ‘Chops’ he gave up eating lamb.
He said he also had a pony, goat, ducks, chickens, dogs and cats.
He said he liked animals so much because “I just get on better with them” and said he liked having ‘Chops’ as a pet because “she is better behaved than a dog”.
He added: “I got ‘Chops’ from a farmer I know who I re-homed stray kittens to. She was either going to be used for breeding or else end up in market so I took her.
“That put me off eating lamb and I haven’t ate lamb since I got her.”