Man admits sending dozens of letters falsely accusing relative of child abuse

Gary O’Donovan (41) from Clonmel, subjected victim to campaign of harassment, court hears

A man has admitted sending a series of anonymous letters, sympathy cards and floral bouquets to members of the community in which he falsely accused a relative of sexually abusing his own children.

Gary O'Donovan (41),  with an address at Willow Park, Clonmel, Co Tipperary pleaded guilty at Skibbereen District Court to harassing the relative living in West Cork between March 10th and March 20th, 2015, contrary to Section 10 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.

Sgt Paul Kelly told the court that O'Donovan sent some 26 letters, four sympathy cards and two bouquets of flowers to the man, his family, a post office, a Garda station, Tusla and a number of local businesses, falsely alleging the man was abusing his children on the instructions of his wife.

The man and his wife were both called paedophiles in the letters, one of which carried an image of the Palestinian flag while a Palestinian flag was also attached to one of the bouquets of flowers. The couple were threatened that they would “wiped out by the Palestinian movement,” said Sgt Kelly.


O’Donovan’s intention was to “name and shame” his relative, said Sgt Kelly.

Gardaí were notified and O'Donovan was arrested. He admitted his involvement but he later emigrated to Australia, the court heard.

Judge James McNulty was told the victim had declined to come to court but he had submitted a victim impact statement. The judge he commended the man for devoting so little of the statement to his own plight but instead to expressing concern for O’Donovan.

“I am aware Gary has serious mental health problems … all I wish for in this case is for Gary to say he is sorry for all the hurt to my family for all the hurt he has caused and I hope he can sort out his mental health problems,” the man said in the statement, which was read out by the judge.

Judge McNulty noted that O’Donovan had gone for counselling but what concerned him in both his therapist’s report and a report from the Probation Service was that he seemed completely lacking in empathy and insight into the hurt he had caused his victim.

Defence solicitor Colette McCarthy said O’Donovan had a troubled childhood. She said he was at a loss to explain why he targeted his relative with the false allegations as he had little contact with him over the years and no reason to bear any grudge or ill will towards him.

O’Donovan got an idea and became fixated on it even though it had no basis in fact, said Ms McCarthy, adding that her client had expressed remorse when interviewed by gardaí.

She suggested adjourning the matter to allow him undergo further psychological assessment.

Judge McNulty said that expressions of remorse at this stage were “much too little and far too late” and he had heard nothing by way of public apology, offer of amends or even indication of empathy, even though O’Donovan had several years in which to do all this.

O’Donovan had engaged in a campaign of harassment where his relative had been “pilloried and humiliated within his community” as a result of the accused’s “delusional actions”.

Judge McNulty said that O’Donovan had allowed “this dark allegation” against his relative to circulate for five years.

O’Donovan told the court he had apologised to the gardaí who interviewed him in 2015 and had asked them to pass on his apologies to his relatives.

He said he had promised never to make contact with his relative and would never return to Cork once the court case was finalised.

Judge McNulty said he would like to hear more in terms of apology, vindication and offer of amends “to this innocent man who was defamed in a most scurrilous way in the victim’s own community”.

He sentenced O’Donovan, whom the court heard had no previous convictions, to six months in jail but suspended it on condition that he write a comprehensive letter of apology to the victim to be delivered to him by gardaí. He was also ordered to keep the peace for two years.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times