A Donegal man who bombarded his pregnant ex-partner with a stream of ‘pathetic’ text and Facebook messages after she left him is to be assessed for community service instead of going to prison.
Bryan Hughes pleaded guilty to harassing Gemma Gallagher between August 19, 2018 and February 15, 2019.
Garda Laura Dillon told Donegal Circuit Court that Hughes and Ms Gallagher resided together for a short period of four days.
The court heard that an issue arose and Ms Gallagher, who was pregnant, moved out.
The messages began on August 19, 2018 and continued. Ms Gallagher spoke to Gardai, but initially did not make a complaint.
Hughes, from Rossnowlagh, turned up at her mother’s house in an attempt to see Ms Gallagher. The victim’s father spoke to Hughes in an attempt to get him to cease, but the messaging continued.
Ms Gallagher was 25 weeks pregnant when she made a statement of complaint to Gardai. She told officers that she was ‘very afraid’ of Hughes.
Hughes’ sister-in-law turned up to Ms Gallagher’s home with a 15-page letter from Hughes and €1,000 in cash.
“A lot of the messages were him trying to get the relationship back,” Garda Dillon said. “A lot of them were extremely immature. They were continuous and caused a lot of stress and anxiety.
“If one method didn’t work, he would try to get other people involved.”
Hughes was arrested on December 11, 2018 and detained at Ballyshannon Garda Station. Hughes made admissions, but Garda Dillon said he was also ‘critical of the victim and her family’.
After Gardai made an initial call to Hughes’ home, the behaviour continued for around three months.
Garda Dillon said the accused had approached the victim’s father in February, 2019 and pleaded with him to enable contact be made. This was after he acknowledged to Gardai that his behaviour was ‘a bit excessive’.
Ms Gallagher wept as she told of the impact of the stream of messages from Hughes. His behaviour had become ‘unpredictable’ and ‘used a lot of insults to me’.
Ms Gallagher felt Hughes was ‘completely disinterested in the pregnancy’ and she lived ‘in fear’,
“We only lived together for four nights,” she said. “He lost his temper and exploded and he called me horrible names. He lifted his fist and held it towards me.”
As a result of what she called ‘ever-changing volatile behaviour’, Ms Gallagher left ‘as I didn’t know what he might do’.
“I lived the rest of the pregnancy in fear,” Ms Gallagher said. “Instead of being relaxed and preparing for the arrival of my daughter, a constant bombardment ensued.”
The victim told how she felt that she was being ‘constantly watched’ and how Hughes approached family members and friends.
Ms Gallagher said the incidents led to her developing ‘severe stress and anxiety’, which had a negative impact on her mental health and well-being. As a result, she was referred to a counsellor.
Barrister for Hughes, Mr Desmond Dockery SC, said his client ‘fell into an extended compulsive and obsessive annoyance’.
“He is not fundamentally bad,” Mr Dockery said. “The compulsive nature of his conduct was borne out of a refusal to desist with it, even following his arrest and detention.
“He couldn’t save himself or stop himself from annoying this lady with pathetic, pleading messages.
“None of them were expressly threatening, but it was the cumulative effect. They were born out of an obsession and were completely irrational.”
Mr Dockery said his client now feels ‘shame and remorse’. A probation report raised a concern in relation to Hughes’ understanding of the gravity of his actions.
“He sees the error and futility of his behaviour and the damage involved,” Mr Dockery said.
Hughes left school early before spending many years working in construction in both the UK and Australia.
A leg injury has prevented him from working in the last couple of years and Hughes has expressed a desire to obtain a taxi licence.
Mr Dockery said his client told of being abused by another man when he was aged between six and 12. The DPP subsequently decided not to proceed with the matter.
Hughes, Mr Dockery added, had abused drugs and alcohol and suffered from PTSD and depression.
In this case, Hughes ‘lost the plot and couldn’t deal with the required emotional maturity to deal with rejection’.
Mr Dockery said a custodial sentence ‘should be a last resort’. “Would the public interest be served by sending him to prison?” he asked.
Passing sentence Judge Aylmer said he placed the case at the lower end of the scale of such incidents.
He said the harassment involved Hughes pestering Ms Gallagher by text and Facebook message and merited a sentence of six months in prison before mitigation was considered.
He said the accused was suffering from depression and post traumatic stress disorder at the time and his difficulties were rooted in abuse he suffered as a child.
However, he had been to a large number of counselling sessions, has no previous convictions, is remorseful and has displayed empathy for his victim.
While the probation report is not entirely positive and recommends further counselling, Judge Aylmer said he was prepared to impose 80 hours community service in lieu of four months in prison.
The court is still to hear if Hughes is suitable for community service and adjourned the case until January.
If he is not suitable then Judge Aylmer added the court will have to come up with an alternative means of dealing with the case.
He also ordered no future contact between Hughes and his victim.