After months of harassment and threats from a former colleague, Una Ring went to bed on a miserable Co Cork night last July fully dressed, suspecting her stalker might try to take advantage of the rotten weather.
The conditions, she recalled, were “so bad I remember saying to a friend of mine that it might the type of night that would draw him out because he wouldn’t think anyone else would be out in such weather, so I went to bed fully dressed that night.
“I woke about 2am and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I was actually awake and heard muffled voices and I heard metal hitting concrete because he had thrown away the crowbar. I got up and went into the bedroom next door and we watched from there, so we saw the whole thing unfold.”
James Steele (52), who threatened to break into Ms Ring's house in Youghal and rape her and her daughter if she did not agree to sleep with him, was jailed on Thursday for five years.
He was caught by gardaí with a crowbar, a rope, duct tape and a sex toy outside Ms Ring’s home in the early hours of July 27th. Ms Ring, a mother of two, waived her right to anonymity to encourage others in similar situations to come forward as she spoke about her experience following his jailing.
Speaking to The Irish Times on Friday, she said she had been terrified a fortnight before Steele was caught when she discovered a letter on her car windscreen containing two condoms and sexually suggestive comments, which concluded “I am watching you”.
“I found that letter terrifying ,” she said. “He had painted my car tyres and painted my window with noughts and crosses but that was sort of childish so part of me thought it might be some bored teenager in the estate, but the letter was very frightening.
“It was at that point that the gardaí advised me to put in CCTV and luckily a friend of my brother was able to install it that night, so that was in place when he came back a week later on the night of July 23rd and left another letter on the windscreen of my car.
“The contents of the letter were again terrifying but the fact that he was captured on CCTV and we were able to confirm that it was him was kind of a relief.”
She said gardaí began patrolling the estate from the time she received the first letter. After the second letter was found, gardaí put a surveillance operation in place and were there four nights later when her stalker arrived.
Ms Ring said she felt as if “a huge weight had been lifted” when Steele was arrested.
“You had been living on your nerves for so long and then the adrenalin kicks in. I wouldn’t say I was as high as a kite, but I was definitely ecstatic and there was this huge sense of relief,” she said, adding that she “went cold” when she realised Steele had a crowbar and other items and was “intent on acting out what he had threatened”.
Return to normality
Now trying to return to some sort of normality after the stress of the court case and a round of media interviews, Ms Ring has found time to reflect on what Steele’s family must now be going through.
“This isn’t about him. He has a wife and family who did nothing wrong. As a mother myself, I would hate for my kids to go through something like this,” she said. “What we went through is completely separate but to be honest I think what they are going to be going through is nearly worse.”
Ms Ring said the victims in these situations get support and sympathy whereas “the perpetrator’s family are kind of tarnished”.
“ I’m not over this yet but my side of it is done whereas their side is only starting in one sense, so I just want people to be kind to them because they are probably going through worse than I am now.”