Saturday 26 May 2018

Man who harassed RTÉ newsreader Sharon Ní Bheoláin jailed for three years

Also pleaded guilty to three counts of knowingly possessing child pornography

Conor O’Hora Photo: Collins
Conor O’Hora Photo: Collins

Jessica Magee

A man who harassed RTÉ newsreader Sharon Ní Bheoláin has been jailed for three years for this and three counts of possessing child pornography.

Conor O'Hora (41) of Heather Walk, Portmarnock, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassing Ms Ní Bheoláin between March 27, 2013 and January 7, 2014.

He further pleaded guilty to three counts of knowingly possessing child pornography on a mobile phone and on a computer hard drive at Station Road, Portmarnock on February 18, 2014.

The court heard that the harassment involved posting over 30 modified photos of Ms Ní Bheoláin on a website which was reachable through a Google search of her name.

The pornography charges involved the possession of roughly 100 images of children involved in knowingly possessing child pornography on a mobile phone and on a computer hard drive at Station Road, Portmarnock on February 18, 2014.

The court heard that the harassment involved posting over 30 modified sexually explicit activity, and 40 sexually explicit and violent online conversations between O'Hora and a co-accused.

Some of the online discussions related to Ms Ní Bheoláin, while others related to three identified children.

Passing sentence today, Judge Martin Nolan condemned O'Hora's “insidious form of harassment” and “debasing behaviour” and handed down a four-and-a-half year sentence with the final 18 months suspended.

“The information on her will be out there forever,” said the judge, who also ordered O'Hora not to seek to contact Ms Ní Bheoláin in any way.

“I've no doubt it caused considerable distress to the complainant and her family. He (O'Hora) must have known that. It was reprehensible and he should be thoroughly ashamed,” said Judge Nolan.

The judge described the pornographic images and conversations as “sordid and pretty disgusting”.

The final 18 months of the sentence were suspended on the basis of O'Hora's mitigation, including the hope for his reform and the steps he has already taken towards rehabilitation.

Detective Garda Padraig Hanley told Kerida Naidoo SC, prosecuting, that gardaí were alerted after modified images of Ms Ní Bheoláin were found online when her name was put into Google.

Using the account name “whoresluttramp”, O'Hora had uploaded 32 images to the website imagefap.com. The images were active from March 27, 2013 until the account was closed at the request of gardaí on January 17, 2014.

The court heard they comprised photos of Ms Ní Bheoláin's head taken from newspaper and RTÉ guide cuttings which were then superimposed onto pornographic images.

O'Hora's home was searched, his computer and mobile phone were seized and he was arrested by gardaí.

Over 40 images of explicit child porn in the most serious category were found on O'Hora's HP Pavilion laptop with a further 53 images on his iPhone, depicting children from the ages of eight to 17.

Many of the pictures were of three identified children and had been taken from Facebook accounts and doctored to form pornographic images.

The court heard the final offence related to 39 online conversations between O'Hora and a co-accused man, via Yahoo private messenger.

Det Gda Hanley said these discussions were “extremely sexually explicit and violent” and included talk of rape, gang rape, sexual assault, torture, threat of extreme sexual violence and murder.

Some of the conversations referred to Ms Ní Bheoláin while others referred to the three identified children.

O'Hora cooperated fully with gardaí, gave them his various account passwords and voluntarily agreed to be interviewed after the images had been analysed. He has one minor previous conviction for a road traffic offence.

Det Gda Hanley told Judge Nolan that O'Hora had “no particular malice, just a fixation” towards Ms Ní Bheoláin.

Pieter Le Vert BL, defending, said O'Hora told gardaí that he didn't wish Ms Ní Bheoláin any harm and that the images and conversations were just “really bad fantasies”.

O'Hora told gardaí: “It's not something I'm proud of, it's a fantasy thing. It's ridiculous to think she would have any interest in me”. He said that he had put the images online just so that other people around the world could “get a jolly out of her”.

“I had a seriously sick mind at the time; I got a power trip from looking at little girls' pictures and it got out of control,” said O'Hora.

He told gardaí he had been smoking 12 to 15 joints of cannabis a day at the time as well as drinking and using cocaine when he could afford it.

Mr Le Vert said his client was now clean of drugs having gone cold turkey and had engaged almost 500 hours of group therapy and psychiatric therapy.

He said O'Hora, who had worked previously for Irish Ferries and An Post, was studying maths and statistics with the Open University and had completed an introductory course with distinction.

A letter of apology from O'Hora to Ms Ní Bheoláin was handed in to court along with testimonials from O'Hora's mother, uncle and neighbours.

Mr Le Vert said O'Hora had repeatedly expressed his remorse and had a supportive family.

Judge Nolan said he accepted that O'Hora was at low risk of re-offending and that he had taken constructive steps to reform himself and “engage with his demons”.

O'Hora was ordered to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for 18 months on his release from prison, and to abide by the supervision of the Probation Services for that period.

The court heard that the co-accused man received an 18-month suspended sentence earlier this year at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, which is being appealed by the DPP for undue leniency.

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