Businessman sent ‘vile’ text messages to niece over five-year period, court told

Gardaí tracked down defendant’s phone to cardboard box in his garage with help from Interpol


A businessman sent dozens of “vile” text messages to his niece over a five-year period.

Martin Hughes sent Michelle Doherty a catalogue of such messages between 2011 and 2016.

The 68-year-old father and grandfather appeared at Letterkenny Circuit Court on Thursday where he pleaded guilty to one count of harassment.

The court heard how Ms Doherty’s life fell apart when she began to receive the anonymous text messages including some which threatened to have her throat slit.

She moved to Spain and changed her phone number but was left devastated when she began to receive the text messages there.

Barrister for the State, Patricia McLaughlin began to read out what she said were the “vile” text messages. Judge John Aylmer asked only for a flavour of them.

The victim’s mother and father were both in court and said Ms Doherty had given her consent for her identity to be used so that Hughes could be identified within his community.

He also sent text messages referring to Ms Doherty’s father, well-known former Donegal county councillor Mickey Doherty asking “How did that fat pig of a father lose in the election, ha, ha?”

Ms McLaughlin said the texts were both sexually explicit and racially offensive.

Det Garda Martin Egan told the court Ms Doherty contacted gardaí and an investigation was launched. He said the public might think it is easy to track a phone but it was not easy to track an unregistered Northern Ireland mobile because of jurisdictional and other issues. However, working with the European Police organisation, Interpol, gardaí finally tracked the phone to Hughes.

On September 29th, 2016 gardaí arrived at his house in Quigley’s Point, Co Donegal, 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.

Det Egan said there had been 438 contacts between the various phones of Ms Doherty and Hughes.

Speaking by videolink from Spain, Ms Doherty (44), said on occasions she physically vomited when she read the texts and was paranoid as to who was sending them.

She decided to move to New York to try to 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 “. . . heard you broke your neck, pity you didn’t come back in a body bag.”

Peter Nolan, defending, 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.

“They [the texts] are particularly hurtful and nasty in some cases and he doesn’t deny that. But he feels Ms Doherty interfered,” he said.

He said his client, who is the licensee of The Point Lodge Bar, has no previous convictions adding “this was brought on by emotional difficulties because of marriage failure and brought on by alcohol and he went way over the top.”

Judge Aylmer said he would need time to consider the sentence and adjourned the matter to Friday.