Wednesday 21 March 2018

Woman (57) who threatened to bomb Michael D Higgins if he visited England receives suspended sentence

Anne Fennell Pic: Courts Collins.
Anne Fennell Pic: Courts Collins.

Sonya McLean and Fiona Ferguson

A woman who sent obscene phone messages including one to Aras an Uachtarain threatening to bomb the President if he visited England has received a suspended five year sentence.

Anne Fennell (57) referred to President Michael D Higgins as a “ladyboy” on one occasion and on another told the receptionist that “the President and Sabrina Higgins would go home in plastic bags if they set foot on English soil”.

She made repeated threats to bomb the president over a number of phone calls in April 2014 and again in October the same year.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court also heard evidence of a campaign of harassment against Fennell's parish priest. The man received numerous nuisance calls and she also ordered taxis and takeaways to his home.

Fennell of Monastery Gate Green, Clondalkin, Dublin pleaded guilty to making persistent annoying phone calls and sending obscene or menacing phone messages to Aras an Uachtarain, the Department of Finance, the European Commission Representation, An Post Dublin Mail Centre and the constituency offices of TDs Alan Kelly, Aodhan O Riordain and Noel Coonan between February 2 and December 1, 2014.

She also pleaded guilty to harassing Fr Desmond Byrne at an address in Clondalkin on dates between September and October 2006. Fennell has no previous convictions.

The court heard the entire area around Dáil Éireann had to be searched on November 18, 2014 when Fennell called to say there would be a bomb at the main gate.

The parliamentary usher who took the call later told gardaí that Fennell, a former An Post worker, had hung up “screaming”.

Judge Melanie Greally today noted Fennell had abused people in “frightening and voracious terms” and that many of the threats had to be regarded as serious and resources had to expended to satisfy the authorities that they were bogus. The later offences were committed while on bail.

She noted that Fennell was someone with a particularly vulnerable psychological make-up and that she had very exceptional difficulties in her life.

She said that since the offences Fennell had brought about a number of positive changes in her living circumstances and had engaged with psychological services that had been made available to her.

She said that Fennell had made some progress but did not seem to appreciate the magnitude of her actions and their impact on victims. She noted Fennell was remorseful.

Judge Greally said she did not think Fennell would benefit from being incarcerated and noted her very complex and unfortunate psychological history.

She imposed consecutive sentences totalling five years which she suspended in full and ordered 18 months probation supervision to include availing of psychiatric and therapeutic services within the community.

Superintendent Michael Cryan told Elva Duffy BL, prosecuting, that Fennell apologised to gardaí when they arrested her after tracing the calls to her Nokia mobile phone.

She said she had been reacting to news stories on television and told officers she was “lonely”. She added that her threats were “just words”.

Supt Cryan said Fennell revealed that she rang Dáil Eireann weekly to complain about various issues.

He agreed with Kevin White BL, defending, that his client lived alone in “very poor circumstances” out of a sleeping bag in a bottom room of her house.

He accepted she had “no means or know-how” to carry out the threats and that she was angry at herself and the world. Mr White said his client was “deeply, deeply regretful for her behaviour” and offered no excused for it.

He said she had a poor but good childhood, had once been in a relationship and had worked with An Post for 11 years.

Supt Cryan described how Fennell had phoned the Department of Finance on February 26, 2014 “ranting and raving” and threatening to bomb President Higgins if he went to Britain. She threatened the EU Commission with a bomb in March if Europe didn't “lay off” Cyprus and its economy.

On November 17, 18 and 19, 2014 she called Environment Minister Alan Kelly's Nenagh office and threatened him and his family with bombs and bullets. She claimed that a previous bomb threat had been a “dry run” and that she would “put a bullet in (Mr Kelly's) head”.

Supt Cryan told Ms Duffy that Mr Kelly put extra security measures in place due to those calls. He said Fennell threatened to send a bomb to the An Post Mail Centre if they posted water bills.

She called TD Noel Coonan's Thurles constituency office in November and December 2014 making obscene comments about him. She claimed that the bomb squad would have to open a brown envelope “present” sent to him.

She also phoned the office of TD Aodhan O Riordain threatening to blow up his car in November 2014. Supt Cryan told Ms Duffy that the constituency office calls had been put through from a main Dáil Eireann switchboard and that way Fennell's number wasn't shown.

Further evidence

Garda Aisling McGowan told Fiona Murphy BL, prosecuting that Fr Byrne came into contact with Fennell in 2000 as he regularly visited her invalid mother at the time.

The woman later died and in October 2005 Fr Byrne began to receive numerous nuisance calls from Fennell. She also ordered taxis and takeaways to his home.

The priest was later blacklisted by local cab firms as a result of the bogus bookings and had to get his neighbour to call a taxi for him on one occasion when he needed one in an emergency.

Gda McGowan said sometimes Fennell would call and remain silent on the phone, while on other occasions she would say a few words. The priest recognised her number and her voice.

CCTV footage captured Fennell hanging around the priest's home. She put brown sauce, crisps and chips through his letterbox and threw black paint over his garage door.

Fennell was arrested in November 2006 and accepted what she had been doing. She said she would pay for any damage and claimed to have had no recollection of doing it.

A victim impact report from Fr Byrne said the calls were a nuisance but he was not scared by them. He also had to install CCTV footage and change the phone system in his home. The priest said he was “happy to put it behind me”.

Kevin White BL, defending, said there was no excuse whatsoever for Fennell's behaviour and she wasn't making any.

He told Judge Greally that his client struggled to cope with her mother's death and wrongly believed Fr Byrne was pushing her aside when he recommended that she join a local group.

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