A businessman who subjected his niece to a five-year campaign of hate-filled texts has been jailed for a year.
Martin Hughes sent dozens of sexually explicit and threatening text messages to his niece Michelle Doherty between 2011 and 2016 which led her to the brink of suicide.
Ms Doherty, now 44, even moved to Spain to escape the anonymous texts but was left devastated when the 68-year-old began to send text messages to her there.
The content of the messages was so disturbing that Judge John Aylmer told Letterkenny Circuit Court in Co Donegal that he only wanted a flavour of the messages.
Judge John Aylmer said this was one of the worst cases of harassment he has ever had to deal with saying the texts had a “devastating effect” on Ms Doherty’s life.
He also condemned Hughes for showing no signs of remorse and suggesting that he was justified in some way for carrying out the hate-filled campaign.
He added that he did not agree with suggestions by the defence counsel that there were only 50 derogatory text messages sent to Ms Doherty.
Among the messages sent to Ms Doherty were texts from Hughes saying that he hoped she died of AIDS as well as calling her a whore, hooker and a slut.
In another text, he threatened to have her throat slit.
Hughes, a 68-year-old father and grandfather of Quigley’s Point, had pleaded guilty to a single count of harassment.
The court was told of an extensive investigation by Gardai to find the identity of the owner of the Northern Ireland unregistered phone used to send the texts.
After an exhausting investigation, Gardai finally tracked down Hughes who was hiding his phone in a cardboard box in his garage.
The court heard how Ms Doherty’s life fell apart when she began to receive the anonymous text messages including some which even threatened to have her throat slit.
She moved to Spain and changed her phone number but was left devastated when she began to receive vile text messages there.
So vile were the texts that Judge Aylmer had asked for only a “flavour of them” in open court.
Detective Garda Martin Egan told the court that Ms Doherty contacted Gardai and a full investigation was launched.
He said the public might think that it is easy to track a phone but it was not easy to track an unregistered Northern Ireland registered mobile because of jurisdictional and other issues.
However, working with the European Police organisation, Interpol, Gardfai finally tracked the phone to Hughes.
Hughes had worked in Scotland where he operated a successful construction company and had returned home to buy and pub and other business interests.
On September 29th, 2016 Gardai arrived at his house in Quigley’s Point with a search warrant and Hughes took them to a corner of his garage where he had the phone used for sending the text messages in a cardboard box.
When interviewed at Buncrana Garda station he admitted sending the texts to Ms Doherty.
Although the number of sexually-explicit texts could not be disclosed, Detective Egan said there had been 438 contacts between the various phones of Ms Doherty and Hughes.
Speaking by videolink from Spain, a tearful Ms Doherty, 44, outlined the five years of her ordeal during which she said she became both depressed and suicidal.
She said on occasions she physically vomited when she read the texts and was paranoid as to who was sending them.
She added “I was feeling sick and frightened and not knowing what to do. Will the Gardai believe me that I am not that person? My dignity was in shreds. I didn’t have any enemies or ex-partners who would do this.
“I would vomit when I would read some of them. I pleaded with them to tell me what I had done but the responses were getting worse and they were clearly enjoying my stress.”
She became so paranoid and frightened that she lost the use of her limbs and had to get her mother to drive her to work as a carer at Carndonagh Community Hospital.
However, the texts persisted and she decided to move to Spain for a fresh start but knew nobody.
The texts continued and she said she was gradually losing her mind.
She moved back to Ireland where she said that at least she could be cared for by her family if anything did happen to her.
The texts continued and she decided to move to New York to try and start again but after just a few weeks she broke her neck in a horrific accident.
A few days later she received a text from the same phone which read “You filthy, dirty rotten whore, heard you broke your neck, pity you didn’t come back in a body bag.”
Barrister for Hughes, Mr Peter Nolan said his client accepted that the texts were despicable.
However, he said it was Ms Doherty who sent the first text message to Hughes back in 2008 expressing glee at the break-up of his marriage.
He also said that Ms Doherty owed his client money after she rented a property from him but didn’t pay him rent.
Passing sentence Judge Aylmer said he placed the charge in the mid-range of such offences and initially merited a sentence of four years.
He initially reduced that sentence to one of three years because of an early guilty plea.
He said that because of Hughes age and the fact that he came before the court with no previous convictions then he was reducing the sentence to one of 12 months.
He said he had the option to suspend the entire sentence but referred to the fact that Hughes showed no remorse and that he blamed a rental dispute and the earlier text sent by Ms Doherty about Hughes’ marriage failure.
He also ordered Hughes not to have any contact with Ms Doherty for ten years.
As the judgement was passed Ms Doherty, on a videolink from a home in rural Spain, wept.