Tuesday 16 July 2019

'Neighbour from hell' with 16 CCTV cameras spared jail after being found guilty of harassment

Thomas Kelly (66) was found guilty of harassment after he hid cameras to record his neighbour
Thomas Kelly (66) was found guilty of harassment after he hid cameras to record his neighbour
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A HOMEOWNER who used hidden cameras to secretly film his neighbours with an “obsession bordering on paranoia” has been been given a four-month suspended sentence.

Thomas Kelly (66), who had 16 CCTV cameras with live feeds to a TV in his living room, was spared jail for harassing three neighbours in what was described as a “land dispute of the worst kind.”

He had denied the charges, maintaining a camera covered in camouflage netting was used to catch one of his neighbours - Paul Lynam - repeatedly engaging in a sex act in the man’s back garden.

Suspending the sentence for two years, Judge David McHugh told Blanchardstown District Court Kelly was a “neighbour from hell” and ordered him to stay away from the victims.

Kelly, of Weir View, Lucan, was found guilty in July of two counts of harassing Mr Lynam at Weir View, Lucan, between July 1 and July 15, 2016.

He was also convicted of two more counts of harassing John Mooney on a date between February 1, 2016 and February 12, 2016, and William Stapleton between February 1 and February 12, 2016.

His case came back before the court for sentencing today. Defence solicitor Valerie Buckley said Kelly was a pensioner who had never come to the attention of the gardai before and never would again.

She said the charges arose from a land dispute that was currently before the civil courts.

Kelly was someone who was very focused in relation to that dispute and “perhaps a little bit too focused in relation to the security aspect,” she said.

The charges came about because of the “attention that was placed on the security aspect.”

Judge McHugh was handed victim impact statements which he examined, but they were not read aloud to the court.

Ms Buckley said the media attention on Kelly following the hearing of the case was “very intense” and “distressing for him and his family.”

“That in itself would be a punishment for the behaviour,” she said.

Kelly acknowledged the seriousness of what he had done, had learned from the experience and Ms Buckley asked the judge to deal with the case by way of an order for Kelly to stay away from the victims.

He would have no difficulty with this as he had no reason to be in contact with them, Ms Buckley said.

“I consider this gentleman to be what is commonly known as the neighbour from hell,” Judge McHugh said.

The victim impact statements showed the effect on the injured parties was over a prolonged period. There was no question of leaving Kelly without convictions and instead the decision was “whether he serves,” Judge McHugh said.

It was a “close call” but the judge said he would suspend the four month sentence for two years. He also made an order for Kelly to stay away from the victims “forthwith.”

“Without a shadow of a doubt if this gentleman is thinking of going back to his previous ways then he knows the level of difficulty he will be in,” the judge said.

During the trial in July, the non-jury court heard gardai were alerted to the situation after Paul Lynam discovered two cameras on an elevated piece of land, described as a cliff in court, at the back of his home.

Mr Lynam told the court: “I’d a feeling for a long time that I was being watched.”

Mr Lynam, along with two other neighbours; Mr Mooney, a journalist, and Mr Stapleton, whose homes were also captured by the camera, made an official complaint to gardai on February 11, 2016.

The following day, gardai arrived with a search warrant for Kelly’s home along with two other properties he owned in the same street. Upon entering 14 Weirview, now-retired Detective Inspector Richard McDonnell said  there were two large flat-screen televisions in the sitting room.

One was showing regular programmes, with the other having live feeds to all 16 of Kelly’s CCTV cameras.

Garda Damien Reilly discovered one camera on top of a cliff to the rear of the house.

The camera, along with the hard drive of the CCTV system and a number of USB sticks where footage was stored, was seized by gardai. Mr McDonnell said video footage showed zooming in on the rear of certain homes. A further search by gardai on July 15, 2016 discovered a replacement camera where the initial one was seized.

On this occasion more USB sticks were seized by investigating gardai. On reviewing what had been seized initially, gardai called Mr Lynam in on May 21, 2016 to review the footage.

One clip appeared to show Mr Lynam to the rear of his own home masturbating. When asked by gardai if that was the case, Mr Lynam said it was.

In his defence, Kelly claimed in court that while he was on top of the cliff working, he had witnessed Mr Lynam masturbating in his back garden.

He said he had made a complaint to the child and family agency Tusla and used the camera to catch Mr Lynam in the act.

Kelly said Mr Lynam was “habitually” naked and was “masturbating repeatedly”.

“My purpose in using those cameras was to capture him doing what we all knew he was doing so I could advance my case,” Kelly said.

Kelly also claimed that the 16 cameras were primarily used for security and to monitor the boundaries of his land – the subject of an ongoing civil dispute.

In their evidence, the victims said they had been “stalked”.

Mr Mooney said: “I have a teenage daughter and a son with a camera pointed at their bedrooms. It terrifies me to think that’s going on.”

He added that he could not allow his daughter to open the blinds at the back of the house for two years, for fear they were being watched. He said he was alerted to the cameras after Mr Lynam showed images of them to him. Mr Stapleton said he was worried about his stepdaughter being filmed.

“I was shocked, because my stepdaughter’s bedroom is at the back and she would always be coming in from the shower,” he said.

Mr Stapleton went on to say that he felt he was being watched constantly, describing it as “horrendous”.

Defence barrister Kitty Perle described the dispute between the neighbours over land as “hotly contested and entrenched warfare”.

However, Judge McHugh found Kelly guilty on four counts of harassment.

The judge added that Kelly’s obsession with land and boundaries “borders on paranoia”.

Applying for free legal aid, defence solicitor Valerie Buckley said Kelly had two properties worth a combined €300,000 and he was in €393,000 arrears on them, so he was in negative equity.

A garda said Kelly owned three properties but Ms Buckley said two of these had been “combined” into one.

After consulting Kelly, Ms Buckley said she was withdrawing the legal aid application. Judge McHugh said this was “most wise.”

He then gave details of the exclusion order  - Kelly must have no contact with the victims for an unlimited time - “at all times into the future.”

Kelly immediately lodged notice of his intention to appeal his conviction.

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