Thomas Armstrong’s campaign of harassment included posting an ad for All Ireland final tickets on DoneDeal with her number, and an anonymous complaint about victim’s elderly parents’ roof garden
A LANDLORD who harassed his former tenant “to breaking point” after their tenancy agreement ended on poor terms has been sentenced to two years in jail with the final 16 months suspended.
Thomas Armstrong (46) of Addison Avenue, Glasnevin, in north Dublin, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassment of Lorna McAuley on dates between August 2016 and August 2018.
The court heard that a dispute arose when Armstrong said he wanted to move back into the apartment and claimed Ms McAuley owed him for rent and damage. He then began “a campaign of intimidation and terror” against her.
Passing sentence on Thursday, Judge Melanie Greally said the calculated and long nature of the offending in multiple forms represented an “extreme violation” of Ms McAuley’s privacy and peace of mind.
Garda Darren Farrell told Monika Leech BL, prosecuting, that the harassment took three forms, including anonymous complaints to Dublin City Council in relation to Ms McAuley’s parents’ roof garden.
Armstrong, a Mayo native, also created a Twitter account in Ms McAuley’s name on which he posted photos of her and bogus tweets. He also advertised tickets for the 2016 All-Ireland final on DoneDeal, listing Ms McAuley’s phone number.
Judge Greally said further aggravating factors of Armstrong’s “campaign of harassment” included his “dishonest” communications with Dublin City Council and the anguish he caused Ms McAuley by involving her elderly parents in his intimidation.
Judge Greally set a headline sentence of 40 months, but gave Armstrong credit for his guilty plea, his absence of previous or subsequent convictions, his expressions of remorse, his low risk of reoffending and the numerous excellent character references speaking highly of his personal qualities.
The court heard Armstrong brought the sum of €4,000 to court as a gesture of remorse to help defray Ms McAuley’s medical and legal costs, but she refused to accept this.
Judge Greally directed that the money be given to Pieta House and agreed to allow Armstrong ten days before taking up his sentence to get his affairs in order. He is due to present himself at Store Street Garda Station on June 15 at 9am to begin his eight-month jail sentence.
Armstrong was ordered not to communicate with Ms McAuley by any means for 40 years or to approach within 500 metres of her home or place of work.
Ms McAuley took the stand to read her own victim impact statement earlier this week. She said she would “never in her wildest dreams” have thought of herself as a victim before this ordeal, which she said had brought her “to breaking point”.
She said she would never forgive Armstrong and that his behaviour had caused her “shame, stress, anxiety, terror and hurt”, destroyed her peace of mind, and impacted on her physical and mental health.
“I rue the day we rented a house from him,” she continued.
She explained that a dispute arose when Armstrong said he wanted to move back into the apartment and claimed she owed him for rent and damage.
She said what followed from him was “a campaign of intimidation and terror” and that she was inundated with calls and text messages.
Ms McAuley said Armstrong posted photos of her on the fake Twitter account he set up in her name and identified where she lived and worked.
“He attempted to destroy my reputation by posting outlandish remarks. I felt violated and I am quite a private person. I found it extremely hurtful and distressing that someone could share photos of me, all of which I had not consented to,” Ms McAuley said.
“I value my privacy above all else. With the click of a button, he took this from me. The Twitter account was only deleted this April and I only became aware of it when he emailed me a link to it from a bogus account.”
She said she suffers from chronic pain and distress and her sleep was severely impacted, explaining that the harassment was the first thing she thought about in the morning and the last thing at night.
“It took a toll on my mental health. I had to get counselling. I have never in my entire life felt more vulnerable or intimidated than when I was under attack from Mr Armstrong.
“I no longer feel safe as a result of his actions. I feel that I will always have to look over my shoulder. I will always be fearful of him,” Ms McAuley said, as she asked Judge Melanie Greally to order Armstrong not to contact her.
“I feel for my personal safety around this man.
“Before, I was outgoing, carefree and confident. Now I am introverted, nervous, distrusting and wary,” she said.
She said her dispute with Dublin City Council is still ongoing.
“It’s my opinion that he stalked me, caused me stress and anxiety in the real world and the virtual world, and I will never forgive him for what he put my family and me through,” Ms McAuley concluded.
Rebecca Smith BL, defending, said her client had written a letter of apology.
“If he could take back what he did, he would. There was a disagreement as to how the dispute arose – it initially arose from a rental dispute,” Ms Smith said.
She added that while that does not excuse his behaviour, he also had an alcohol problem at the time which he has since dealt with.
“This explains his skewed thinking at the time which led him down this rabbit hole,” counsel suggested.
Ms Smith said the ramifications of the cases are going to have a huge impact on her client’s life going forward but he completely accepts that it is his own fault.
She said he plays piano and violin to a high level and has done much voluntary work in the community. He is originally from Mayo and is part of a group that organised activities there.
Ms Smith said her client was willing to do community service and asked the court to accept that he is a different person to the one he was five years ago.
Judge Greally said she found it hard to accept the defence application that Armstrong was suffering from alcoholism at this time.
“I don’t believe that someone suffering from alcoholism could conduct this kind of coherent campaign and hold down a highly responsible job,” said the judge.
“I don’t believe for a second that a man of his education didn’t fully realise the implication of his actions – his actions were fully intended and perpetrated to destroy her peace of mind. He cannot claim with any credibility that he didn’t realise what effect his actions were going to have.”
Judge Greally commented that having read the testimonials from Armstrong’s friends, family and colleagues, “one would not think one was reading about the same person. There are evidently two sides to Mr Armstrong”.
Garda Darren Farrell told Monika Leech BL, prosecuting, that Dublin City Council received an anonymous complaint in relation to an unauthorised roof garden on Ms McAuley’s father’s home, which resulted eventually in the rooftop garden being removed.
A Twitter account was also set up in Ms McAuley’s name in 2015. At the time Ms McAuley had no online social media presence and the tweets posted included personal information about her and photographs of her.
The advertisement on the DoneDeal website in relation to All-Ireland final tickets for Dublin Vs Mayo resulted in a large number of unwarranted texts and communication. Ms McAuley was away at the time and it caused her substantial difficulties, Gda Farrell told Ms Leech.
Armstrong was nominated as a suspect and on October 18, 2018 his home was searched, during which a number of electronic devices were taken that contained personal details relating to Ms McAuley.
He was arrested in May 2019 but nothing of significance came out of his subsequent interview with gardaí, Gda Farrell said. He has no previous convictions.
Gda Farrell agreed with Ms Smith that a dispute had arose between Armstrong and Ms McAuley towards the end of their tenancy agreement.
It was accepted that his plea was of great significance to the prosecution as it would have been a very technical trial. A report from the Probation Service placed Armstrong at a low risk of reoffending.