Una Ring: Harassment victim recalls ‘absolutely terrifying’ ordeal

Woman urges others in similar situations to seek help from gardaí

Una Ring says that while she feels ‘great comfort’ that her tormentor is in prison, she is still suffering from the effects of the harassment. File photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts Limited

Una Ring says that while she feels ‘great comfort’ that her tormentor is in prison, she is still suffering from the effects of the harassment. File photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Cork Courts Limited

 

A woman who was subjected to a six-month campaign of harassment, which included threats of rape, has described the ordeal as “absolutely terrifying” and urged women in similar situations to seek help from gardaí.

Una Ring, who waived her right to anonymity to encourage other women to come forward, was speaking less than a week after her tormentor, 52-year-old James Steele, was jailed for five years. Steele pleaded guilty last week to a series of offences including harassment, criminal damage and attempted trespass with the intent to commit rape at Ms Ring’s home in Youghal, Co Cork between February 14th, 2020 and July 27th, 2020.

Ms Ring told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live show that while she felt “great comfort” that Steele was in prison, she is still suffering from the effects of the harassment. “I won’t be over it quickly,” she said. “I know I’ll get over it eventually but even when I’m out and about I’m still persuading myself mentally, ‘You’re safe, you’re safe’. If I come out of a shop, I’ll check the back of the car to make sure there’s nobody in there. I’m not obsessively checking the door locks now, but I’m checking them fairly often.”

Ms Ring recalled how she and Steele were never friends but “purely work colleagues” and that she had agreed to meet him last February at his new place of work to help set up a conference room for an exhibition.

“We went into the conference room where we were meant to be setting up the stuff and there was nothing there, it was literally just a table. There was no chairs, no whiteboards, and I was like ‘I’m in trouble here’.

“I turned around and said ‘What’s going on?’ and next thing his arms were around me and he was trying to kiss me and I just kept moving... I was just asking him to stop and I said ‘I don’t want this’ and he kept saying ‘You won’t know until you try’, and I kept pleading with him to stop.”

Threat

Steele texted the next morning to apologise, she said, but then continued to message her phone. On April 1st, 2020, he got in touch again, threatening to visit her home, she added.

“I said don’t call to the house, don’t contact me again and he said ‘Fine, I won’t contact you again’. And there was no further contact. I was very uneasy over it.”

Two months later, in June, Ms Ring visited the GP as she was struggling to cope following the ordeal and later that week called to Youghal Garda station to report the matter.

A few weeks later, on July 7th, Ms Ring found the four tyres on her car had been painted pink and the following week noughts and crosses were painted on her window with the words ‘I win’ printed on the windowsill.

The next morning she found an unsigned letter on the windscreen of her car containing two condoms and a message telling her to leave her back door open and making suggestions of a sexual nature. Nine days later, another letter was left on her car in which Steele gave Ms Ring the choice of having consensual sex with him or else he would rape both her and her 20-year-old daughter.

“It was absolutely terrifying, the fact that he mentioned my daughter,” said Ms Ring. “That brought it to a whole other level. You’d do anything to protect your kids, when he mentioned my daughter I was in a state of panic.”

CCTV footage

Having installed a CCTV camera on the advice of gardaí, Ms Ring could see from the footage that Steele had left the letter. Gardaí mounted a surveillance operation and in the early hours of July 27th, Garda James Heffernan tackled and apprehended Steele, who was carrying a crowbar, after he entered Ms Ring’s driveway.

Ms Ring said she heard muffled voices outside her home that morning and watched the scene of Steele’s arrest unfold from her window. She said the Garda response to her situation was “fantastic” and paid tribute to the gardaí who sat outside her house for five hours through the night in the days leading up to the arrest.

Ms Ring also urged any woman facing similar harassment to let their local Garda station know. “It’s just to give the guards a starting point. When I went down the first day I had the messages printed off and a short statement printed. But even to have it handwritten, it doesn’t have to be printed. Or screenshot messages. Just to show them that this is happening, this is real, I am afraid. At the very least they will advise you and, if it escalates to the point where I was at, they will look after you, they will protect you.”