Man who harassed woman he met on dating site gets suspended sentence

Victim experienced very real fear and was disturbed by widower’s behaviour, court heard

A widower who harassed a woman he met on a dating site has been given a suspended sentence for harassment, making threats to kill and smearing his garda cell with blood.

Peter McCormack (59) of Ballinakill, Moate, Co Westmeath pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassing Mary Farrell between March and September 2020, and making threats to kill and criminal damage of a cell in the Garda station on September 9th, 2020.

At a sentence hearing last July, Garda Aishling Conroy told Gerardine Small BL, prosecuting, that Ms Farrell met McCormack on the dating site Plenty of Fish, and began a romantic relationship lasting a number of months, which she ended in December 2019.

When McCormack got back in touch in February of the following year, she told him they were “just friends” – and she thought he had accepted this.

But soon after an anonymous letter arrived to the bank where she worked, with a copy of Ms Farrell’s Plenty of Fish profile and the message: “She wouldn’t give me a loan”.

Her manager reported it to security, thinking it was a disgruntled customer, but Ms Farrell recognised McCormack’s handwriting.

Gda Conroy said McCormack left numerous voicemails over the following months, some including the sound of him talking, others with the radio playing, and others where there was silence. He also turned up outside her house, left an Easter egg to her workplace, and put a cheque for €1,000 into her letterbox. She didn't cash it. She also found a blank check signed by McCormack attached to her car after work one day.

The court heard the harassment reduced during the first phase of pandemic restrictions, but in August 2020 he turned up at her house when she arrived home from work and pulled into her driveway.

Throughout that month and into September, he approached her at home or on the street, had flowers delivered to her work, and rang her repeatedly.

Ms Farrell first told gardaí­ of her concerns on August 23rd, but the harassment continued until McCormack was ultimately arrested at his home on September 9th, 2020.

Judge Elma Sheahan acknowledged that while there was no victim impact statement before the court, Gda Conroy had indicated that the woman had experienced very real fear and was disturbed by McCormack's behaviour.

She accepted that McCormack was previously of good character and a productive member of society.

Judge Sheahan noted from various medical reports before the court, including from his treating psychiatrist, that McCormack had a pre-existing depressive disorder which was exasperated by the death of his wife in 2018.

The reports concluded that McCormack has been taking his medication and engaging with his recommended therapies and has since gained insights into his behaviour, expressing his remorse to the victim and gardaí­.

Judge Sheahan imposed concurrent sentences totally two years and eight months, but suspended them in full for five years and six months. She said she was suspending the sentence for a significant length of time in order to ensure the protection of the victim.

The sentence was suspended on various conditions including that McCormack not make any contact with the victim by any means either by messaging, calls or going to her home or work place.

McCormack must also continue to attend his GP and psychiatrist and take his medication and attend for therapy as directed by his treating doctors.

Judge Sheahan warned McCormack that “even a text” could lead to a breach of the conditions of the suspended sentence and thereby led to the imposition of the sentence. She also advised that he give permission to his GP and psychiatrist to alert the gardaí if he fails to comply with the treatment as recommended.