Woman (42) jailed following online and in-person harassment of Sinn Féin TD and businesswoman

Sonya Egan pleaded guilty to harassing Jonathan O’Brien and Laura O’Connell between 2018 and 2019

A 42-year-old woman has been jailed for two years for subjecting a Sinn Féin TD and a businesswoman to separate campaigns of harassment in person and on social media including a false claim they bullied her to the point that she miscarried and contemplated suicide.

Sonya Egan of the Lawn, Lios Cara, Killeens, Co Cork had pleaded guilty last month to harassing then Cork North Central Sinn Féin TD, Jonathan O’Brien and businesswoman, Laura O’Connell between 2018 and 2019, contrary to Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

Judge Helen Boyle recalled the evidence given by Sgt John Sheehy that Egan contacted Mr O’Brien about what she claimed was a conspiracy to cover up sex abuse she alleged she had suffered as a child and, although he didn’t believe her claims, he advised her how to make a protected disclosure.

Sgt Sheehy had told the court Egan became a member of Sinn Féin and she told Mr O’Brien that her feelings for him “went beyond friendship” and she started sending him emails and text messages including ones from fake accounts in which she made false claims about who she was.

Egan sent one email purporting to be from the leader of the Labour Party in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn in which he revealed he was Egan’s father while in another fake email purporting to be from a woman in Belfast, she claimed to be niece of one of the Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon.

Egan began sending numerous emails to members of Sinn Féin that Mr O’Brien was bullying her and had betrayed her confidence and she posted on Facebook a false allegation that bullying by Mr O’ Brien had caused her to lose a baby that she was expecting and that he had driven her to suicide.

On several occasions, she claimed that he had driven her to suicide and that she was going to carry it out — whilst this was going on, she would email him to say that she loved him and that she would drop all the claims against him if “he gave into her feelings for him,” said Sgt Sheehy.

Disciplinary inquiry

Mr O’Brien told gardaí that he received over 1,000 emails from Egan and some days he received over 100 text messages from her and the garda investigation found phone and email records showed Mr O’Brien received over 5,500 calls and SMS messages from her over a six-month period.

“Sonya Egan turned up at his place of work in Leinster House, demanding to speak to him and she publicly stated on Facebook on a number of occasions that she had taken an overdose and it was Jonathan O’Brien’s fault,” Sgt Sheehy told the earlier hearing.

Egan also approached Mr O’Brien’s daughter at his place of work, asking questions about him while she also sent him photos of his deceased father on multiple occasions and when he made a complaint about to gardaí, she called him a rat and publicly posted “You don’t rat on a republican.”

Sgt Sheehy said that a disciplinary inquiry was carried out by the local branch of Sinn Féin in Cork North Central and at the meeting Egan gave an undertaking to desist from her actions and to stop contacting Mr O’Brien but she failed to do so and continued harassing him.

“On another occasion, she claimed that Jonathan O’Brien assaulted her so badly that this was the reason that she lost her unborn baby. On one occasion, she alleged that he had “kicked the baby out of her,” said Sgt Sheehy.

He said that all the while that she was posting public messages that Mr O’Brien was bullying her and that he had caused her to miscarry, she would send him messages privately that she would drop all her allegations against him if “he just gave into his feelings for her.”

Judge Boyle called how Egan presented herself as a barrister to Ms O’Connell after they met at a meeting over an environmental issue but later began bombarding her with emails and Facebook messages, alleging Ms O’Connell had breached her trust on matters she had disclosed to her.

She then began publicly accusing Ms O’Connell on Facebook of bullying her and she then sent posted messages from fake profiles, commenting on the abuse and she claimed that she was going to commit suicide over reports that Ms O’Connell had made against her.

Impact statements

Judge Boyle noted that she received victim impact statements from both Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell which set out the impact on them both emotionally and financially as they both incurred serious debts taking out injunctions to prevent Egan from making false allegations against them.

She recalled how Ms O’Connell had spoken eloquently in her Victim Impact Statement of how Egan had tormented her so much that she was now a broken woman and a shadow of herself and was left impoverished as a result of the legal bill she incurred from obtaining an injunction against Egan.

Judge Boyle said that a report by forensic psychologist, Dr Patrick Randall found that Egan said she had been subjected to physical assault and sexual assault and rape as a child growing up in care but gardai had expressed scepticism about the report and the prosecution did not accept its findings.

She said that report was unusual in that it was unable to offer a clear explanation for Egan’s behaviour, but it did note that she had some insight into her offending behaviour which she attributed to a sense of injustice from her childhood and was at low risk of reoffending.

Judge Boyle noted that Egan had expressed remorse in a letter to the court for the “upset, anguish, and torment” that she caused both Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell but said that she did not realise the impact that her behaviour was having on them until it had got out of control.

She also noted that Egan had no relevant previous convictions and although she only pleaded guilty on the day that the case was listed for hearing, she must be given credit for her guilty plea and sparing her victims the trauma of having to give evidence in a trial.

However, there were also several aggravating factors including the fact that the harassment was repeated and sustained going on for a year in both cases while the false allegations she made were particularly damaging and, also the fact that she approached the children of both victims.

Judge Boyle noted that defence counsel, Anthony Sammon SC had applied to have the matter adjourned for a period to see how Egan behaves, but she believed that she had to finalise the matter and deal with I t by way of custodial sentence so serious was the offending.

She sentenced Egan to three years in jail but suspended the final 12 months in light of the various mitigating factors, but she ordered that Egan have no contact directly or on social media with Mr O’Brien or Ms O’Connell or post anything about them online for a period of seven years.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times