A man targeted a relative by sending letters to his house and to others nearby, including the post office, gardaí, Tusla, and neighbours, falsely accusing him of being a paedophile and saying he would be “burnt out” by Palestinian forces.
Gary O’Donovan, a former taxi driver with an address at 65 Willow Park, Clonmel, Co Tipperary, pleaded guilty to one charge of harassment against his uncle, Frank O’Donovan, in the period between March 10, 2015, and March 20, 2015.
Sergeant Paul Kelly told Skibbereen District Court that in that period, O’Donovan, now 41, sent 26 letters, four sympathy cards, two bouquets of flowers, and a Palestinian flag to his uncle, as well as to others in the locality, including the post office, the bank, the Garda station, the Child and Family Agency, and local businesses.
The letters alleged — entirely falsely and completely without foundation — that Mr O’Donovan’s relative was sexually abusing his children, including on the instructions of his wife.
Sgt Kelly told Judge McNulty that the letters were sent with the intention of “naming and shaming” the injured party, even though the claims were utterly baseless and O’Donovan had no difficulties with his relative.
The court heard the sympathy cards were sent to O’Donovan and his wife, along with a bouquet of flowers containing threatening and insulting material, including a picture of a handgun and hand grenade, and a Palestinian flag, threatening that “they would be wiped out by the Palestinian movement”.
A Palestinian flag was also left, alongside a bouquet of flowers, at the gates of the injured party’s home.
The court heard that the injured party had declined to attend but had submitted a victim impact statement. Read aloud by the judge, it said that five years ago letters had started to be sent to him and his wife and children for six months, along with flowers and a threat that “we are going to burn you out”.Learn more
The investigation identified O’Donovan as the person behind the letters. The injured party said he was aware O’Donovan had “serious mental health problems” and added: “All I ask is for Gary to say sorry to me and my family for all the harm he has caused.”
A probation report and a report from a psychotherapist had been provided to the judge, and while there were references to unexplored childhood trauma, the judge said there appeared to be little in the way of remorse.
“I do not detect an awful lot of empathy,” Judge McNulty said. “He is at a loss to explain why he targeted this particular uncle.”
The judge said O’Donovan had had limited contact with the injured party throughout his life and had met his relative on just six occasions.
O’Donovan’s solicitor, Colette McCarthy, said the allegations made by her client had “no basis in fact”.
“His explanation first day was he got an idea and became completely fixated with it,” she said.
Ms McCarthy said the Probation Service suggestion that a full psychological assessment be carried out was a helpful one.
The court heard he had no previous convictions and that he and his wife, a social worker, had spent time in Australia after the period of harassment and before the charge was levelled against him.
Judge McNulty queried the level of effort made by the defendant in that intervening period to “exonerate or redeem the good name of the man whose reputation had been so dreadfully damaged”.
Ms McCarthy said this could be a “double-edged sword” if it were aired again and that her client had apologised through the gardaí as he has no contact with his family.
Judge McNulty said of the harassment: “He [the injured party] was pilloried and humiliated in his community by the delusional and malicious actions and communications of your client. In five-and-a-half years, there is not a screed of a written word of apology, not an iota of a word of regret.”
O’Donovan told the judge he had said sorry through the gardaí and had no desire to set foot in Co Cork again once the proceedings were concluded, adding: “I am mending my ways.”
Judge McNulty said the injured party had been defamed “in the most scurrilous manner” in his own community.
To reflect on the gravity of the offence, the judge initially handed down a six-month jail sentence, but later said he would suspend the sentence for two years on the condition that O’Donovan keep the peace and write a comprehensive letter of apology to the injured party, to be delivered to a Garda sergeant who would then pass it on to the recipient.