A landlord who harassed his former tenant ‘to the breaking point’ after their tenancy ended on poor terms has been given a two-year jail sentence suspended for the past 16 months.
Homas Armstrong (46) of Addison Avenue, Glasnevin, Dublin pleaded guilty in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassment of Lorna McAuley between August 2016 and August 2018.
The court heard a dispute arose when Armstrong said he wanted to move back into the flat and claimed Ms McAuley owed him rent and damages. He then launched “a campaign of intimidation and terror” against her.
Handing down her sentence on Thursday, Judge Melanie Greally said the calculated and lengthy nature of the offense in multiple forms represented an “extreme violation” of Ms McAuley’s privacy and peace of mind.
Garda Darren Farrell told prosecutor Monika Leech BL the harassment took three forms, including anonymous complaints to Dublin City Council about Ms McAuley’s parents’ roof garden.
Armstrong, from Mayo, also set up a Twitter account in Ms McAuley’s name where he posted photos of her and fake tweets, and lastly advertised tickets for the All Ireland 2016 final on DoneDeal, indicating Ms. McAuley’s telephone number.
Judge Greally said other aggravating factors in Armstrong’s ‘harassment campaign’ included his ‘dishonest’ communications with Dublin City Council and the anguish he caused Ms McAuley by implicating her elderly parents in his bullying.
Judge Greally set an aggregate sentence of 40 months, but credited Armstrong for his guilty plea, lack of prior or subsequent convictions, expressions of remorse, low risk of re-offending, and the many excellent character references making the praise for his personal qualities.
The court heard Armstrong brought the sum of €4,000 to court as a sign of remorse to help cover Ms McAuley’s medical and legal costs, but she refused to accept it.
Judge Greally ordered the money returned to Pieta House and agreed to give Armstrong ten days before taking his sentence to get his affairs in order. He is due to report to Store Street Garda station on June 15 at 9 a.m. to begin his eight-month prison sentence.
Armstrong was ordered not to communicate with Ms McAuley by any means for 40 years or come within 500 yards of her home or workplace.
Ms McAuley took the floor to read her own victim impact statement earlier this week. She said she would “never in her wildest dreams” have thought of herself as a victim before this ordeal which she said had brought her “to the breaking point”.
She said she would never forgive Armstrong and that his behavior had caused her “shame, stress, anxiety, terror and pain”, destroyed her peace of mind and had had her impact on their physical and mental health.
“I regret the day we rented him a house,” she continued.
She explained that a dispute arose when Armstrong said he wanted to move back into the apartment and claimed she owed him rent and damages.
She said what followed from him was “a campaign of intimidation and terror” and she was inundated with calls and texts.
Ms McAuley said Armstrong posted photos of her on the fake Twitter account he created in her name and identified where she lived and worked.
“He tried to destroy my reputation by posting outlandish remarks. I felt violated and I’m a pretty private person. I found it extremely hurtful and distressing that someone could share photos of me that I hadn’t consented to,” Ms McAuley said.
“I value my privacy above all else. With a single click, he took it from me. The Twitter account was only taken down in April and I only learned of it when he sent me a link to it from a fake account,” Ms McAuley explained.
She said she suffered from chronic pain and distress and her sleep was severely affected, explaining that the harassment was the first thing on her mind in the morning and the last thing in the evening.
“It took a toll on my mental health. I had to get counselled. I have never felt more vulnerable or intimidated in my entire life than when I was attacked by Mr. Armstrong.
“I no longer feel safe because of his actions. I feel like I will always have to look over my shoulder. I will always be afraid of him,’ Ms McAuley said, as she asked Judge Melanie Greally to order Armstrong not to contact her.
“I feel for my personal safety around this man.”
“I used to be outgoing, carefree and confident. Now I’m introverted, nervous, wary and distrustful,” she said.
She said her dispute with Dublin City Council was still ongoing.
“I think he harassed me, caused me stress and anxiety in the real world and in the virtual world and I will never forgive him for what he put my family and me through. “, Ms. McAuley concluded.
Rebecca Smith BL, defending, said her client wrote a letter of apology.
“If he could take back what he did, he would. There was disagreement over how the dispute arose – it initially stemmed from a dispute over tenancy,” Ms Smith said.
She added that while that doesn’t excuse his behavior, he also had a drinking problem at the time which he has since treated.
“That explains his muddled thinking at the time that led him down that rabbit hole,” the attorney suggested.
Ms Smith said the ramifications of the cases were going to have a huge impact on her client’s life going forward, but he completely accepts it was his fault.
She said he plays piano and violin at a high level and has done a lot of volunteer work in the community. He is originally from Mayo and is part of a group that organized activities there.
Ms Smith said her client was willing to do community service and asked the court to accept he was a different person than he was five years ago.
Judge Melanie Greally said she had difficulty accepting the defense’s claim that Armstrong was suffering from alcoholism at the time.
“I don’t believe that a person suffering from alcoholism can carry out this kind of coherent campaign and hold a position of high responsibility,” Judge said.
“I don’t believe for a second that a man of his upbringing did not fully realize the implication of his actions – his actions were fully intended and perpetrated to destroy his peace of mind. He cannot claim with any credibility that he did not realize the effect his actions were going to have,” added Judge Greally.
Judge Greally commented that after reading the testimonies of Armstrong’s friends, family and co-workers, “you wouldn’t think we were reading about the same person. There are obviously two sides to Mr. Armstrong.