Man jailed for harassment campaign including threats to rape woman and daughter

James Steele (52) caught with crowbar, rope and duct tape attempting to break into victim’s Cork home

 

A 52-year-old man has been jailed for five years after he subjected a woman to a six month campaign of harassment including threatening to rape her and her daughter if she didn’t agree to have sex with him.

Australian, James Steele pleaded guilty to a series of offences including harassment, criminal damage and attempted trespass with the intent to commit rape at the home of Una Ring in Youghal between February 14th 2020 and July 27th 2020.

On Thursday at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, Sgt John Sharkey of Youghal Garda Station outlined the background to the case. He said it stemmed from when Steele became obsessed with Ms Ring when they worked together, even though their relationship was at all times professional.

Sgt Sharkey told how Steele, of Reavilleen, Rosscarbery, Co Cork left the company to take up a new job and he asked Ms Ring to help him set up his new office. She agreed to help him and went to his new office on February 14th 2020 but he made an amorous advance and tried to kiss her which she rebuffed and she left.

Steele then began sending Ms Ring texts including ones apologising for his behaviour and offering her a new job in the company he had joined He also asked how her 84 year-old mother in a nursing home was and when she didn’t reply, he threatened to call to her home.

Ms Ring became fearful and although the texts stopped in April, she called to Youghal Garda station in June to report the matter and have it on record said Sgt Sharkey. However at that stage she did not want to make a formal statement of complaint, he said.

Unsigned letters

Ms Ring, who lived with her daughter (20) and son (18), got up on July 7th to discover the four tyres of her car had been painted pink . On July 13th, she woke up to find a game of noughts and crosses painted on her window with the words “I win” painted on the sill, the court heard.

CCTV image of James Steele of Reavilleen, Roscarberry sentenced to seven years with the last two years suspended at Cork Circuit Criminal Court. Photograhp: Cork Courts Limited
CCTV image of James Steele of Reavilleen, Roscarberry sentenced to seven years with the last two years suspended at Cork Circuit Criminal Court. Photograhp: Cork Courts Limited

The following morning she found an unsigned letter in a black envelope on the windscreen of her car. Inside were two condoms and a message telling her to leave her back door open and making suggestions of a sexual nature and warning she was being watched, the court heard.

Some nine days later, she found another unsigned letter on her car in which Steele had given her the choice of having consensual sex with him or else he would rape both her and her daughter, the court heard.

Sgt Sharkey said that Ms Ring had installed CCTV at her home on their advice and when she viewed footage from the system, she identified Steele as the man leaving the letters. Gardaí mounted a surveillance operation on her house over the following nights.

At about 3.45am on July 27th, Garda James Heffernan spotted a man entering the driveway of Ms Ring’s home and tackled and apprehended him. The man was Mr Steele, who was wearing a snood to conceal his face and was wearing disposable plastic gloves.

Gardaí also found that he was carrying a crowbar to force his way into the home as well as lengths of rope and duct tape, the court heard. Gardaí also discovered that he had strapped a condom-covered dildo to his crotch outside his underwear but under his pants.

He was taken to Midleton Garda station where he initially claimed he was simply planning to break into cars to steal money. He later admitted sending the letters and said he had hoped Ms Ring would agree to have sex with him but said he was willing to act on his threat to rape her.

Harassment victim Una Ring from Roscarberry at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, flanked by Sergeant John Sharkey and Insp Eoghan Healy.Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited
Harassment victim Una Ring from Roscarberry at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, flanked by Sergeant John Sharkey and Insp Eoghan Healy.Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Steele said he had become obsessed with Ms Ring when working with her but he said his behaviour towards her with the letters, which were written after drinking a bottle of wine, was “disgusting”, the court heard. He accepted Ms Ring had done nothing to draw this type of behaviour on her, said Sgt Sharkey.

Defence counsel, Tom Creed SC said his client had pleaded guilty at an early stage and co-operated fully with gardaí and he had never come to the attention of gardaí in Ireland, though he accepted he had a previous conviction for indecent assault in Australia when he was 18.

Worrying case

Judge Sean O Donnabhain said it was a very worrying case with many aggravating factions including , the length of time over which events went on, the nature of preparations taken and the level of deviousness involved, all which made it far more than a case of harassment.

Judge O Donnabhain said the threats to rape the injured party and the details in the letters were quite horrific and put the case on a different level. It was clear that Steele was getting more and more out of control before he was thankfully caught “red-handed by the gardaí”, he said.

Judge O Donnabhain sentenced Steele to seven years but suspended the final two years for a period of five years and remain under the supervision of the Probation Service while he also ordered him to have no contact with Ms Ring or her family either directly or indirectly ever again.