A woman who waged a campaign of harassment against a former Sinn Féin TD by phoning and texting him over 5,500 times over a six-month period and sending him a picture of a rat when he made a complaint to gardaí has been jailed for two years.
Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard that Sonya Egan (42) of The Lawn, Lios Cara, Killeens, Co Cork, sent thousands of emails to former Cork North Central TD Jonathan O’Brien. After sending him a picture of a rat she posted on social media: "You don't rat on a Republican."
She also bombarded local community activist and businesswoman Laura O’Connell with messages, and posed as a barrister when she first met her. Egan donned robes and claimed she had come from family court when they made an arrangement to meet over coffee.
Sgt John Sheehy told the court in May that Egan carried out the campaign of abuse against Ms O’Connell and Mr O’Brien between 2018 and 2019.
Mr O’Brien first became aware of Sonya Egan in April/May 2017 where she approached him as a TD for advice. She then became a Sinn Féin member and in December 2018 she began sending him suggestive comments that made him uneasy.
Egan claimed that she had feelings for him that were beyond friendship. Mr O’Brien had no interest in a relationship of any type with the defendant.
Sgt Sheehy said Mr O’Brien then began receiving numerous messages and texts from Egan and emails from fake accounts.
“He began receiving emails from fake accounts, one of which claimed to be Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party, claiming to be her [Egan’s] father.”
Egan then emailed the Sinn Féin party claiming that she was being bullied by Jonathan O’Brien. There was no truth to any of her allegations against Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell.
Sgt Sheehy said Egan wrote in the emails that Mr O’Brien had “betrayed her confidence” in relation to a disclosure she made to him.
“On a number of occasions she claimed that he had driven her to suicide and that she was going to carry it out. Whilst this was going on she would email him [O’Brien] to tell him that she loves him and that she would drop allegations against him if he gave in to his feelings for her.”
She publicly alleged on Facebook on a number of occasions that she had taken an overdose and it was Mr O’Brien’s fault.
Sgt Sheehy said on one occasion Egan emailed Mr O’Brien and said that his terminally ill mother had fallen out of bed in hospital.
“Sonya became aware that his terminally ill mother had fallen out of the bed in hospital and claims that a friend in the hospital had told her. The hospital staff confirmed that his mother had fallen out of the bed but it has not been established yet how she got this information.”
The court heard that Egan sent pictures of Mr O’Brien’s deceased father to him on multiple occasions. She went to the workplace of his daughter and also made a trip to the offices of Births, Deaths and Marriages to look up the date of Mr O’Brien’s father’s death.
Sgt Sheehy told Judge Helen Boyle that Egan, who is an unemployed married mother of three, carried out a significant and lengthy campaign of abuse against Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell.
“He (Mr O’Brien) believes that Sonya Egan has contacted him using over 20 different Facebook profiles. She sent (Mr O’Brien) 100 texts some days. She turned up at Leinster House demanding to speak to him.”
A disciplinary inquiry was carried out by the local branch of Sinn Féin and Egan gave an undertaking to stop contacting Mr O’Brien. Sgt Sheehy said that Egan failed to desist.
Egan pleaded guilty to two counts of harassment contrary to Section 10 (1) and (6) of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997.
Sgt Sheehy also told the court of the harassment campaign Egan waged against Laura O’Connell. Ms O’Connell made a formal complaint against Sonya Egan in October 2018.
She had met Egan when she was taking part in a local activist issue. Egan claimed she was a legal professional and on one occasion she met Ms O’Connell for coffee in a pub wearing barrister’s robes.
Ms O’Connell became apprehensive about Egan and attempted to distance herself from her. Sgt Sheehy said Egan then began “bombarding” Ms O’Connell with messages. She started posting messages on Facebook saying that Ms O’Connell was bullying her.
Egan claimed on Facebook that she was being defamed and harassed by Ms O’Connell. She then created numerous fake Facebook accounts in order to comment on the posts. Egan also emailed numerous people making false allegations against Ms O’Connell.
Mr O’Brien previously handed in a victim impact statement to the judge which was not read out in court. In her victim impact statement, Ms O’Connell said that she was afraid to go outside her door arising out of the harassment.
“At 43 years of age I am a broken woman and on my knees because of Sonya Egan. I flinch with every outside noise, panic at the sound of a doorbell in fear it is her or those who follow her. I cannot go anywhere without having to assess who is following me or watching me, cannot open social media without dreading what will be posted about me today.”
Ms O’Connell said that she has incurred €26,000 in legal fees taking an injunction against Egan.
The particulars of the offences are that Egan did on various dates between January 17th, 2018 and January 9th, 2019 at locations within the State harass Jonathan O'Brien.
She also pleaded guilty to harassing a woman named as Laura O'Connell on various dates between April 8th, 2018 and June 26th, 2019 at locations within the State.
Barrister for the defence, Anthony Sammon, SC, who was instructed by Eimer Griffin of Padraig O'Connell solicitors, said that his client was apologetic for her actions.
On Monday at the sentencing hearing, Judge Boyle jailed Egan for three years, suspending the last year of the sentence.
The final year was suspended on the condition that Egan have no communication with or about Ms O'Connell or Mr O'Brien for a period of seven years. She was also ordered not to come within 50 yards of their homes or places of work.
Judge Boyle said the campaign of harassment continued for over a year and that it targeted not just the two named individuals but their families.
She said there were multiple routes in the campaign including online and face-to-face harassment.
"It is so serious it merits a prison sentence," she said.
Judge Boyle said a psychological report set out that Egan had been brought up in State care and had endured multiple forms of abuse over her childhood. She was deemed as being at a low risk of re-offending and had offered a letter of apology for her actions.
Judge Boyle said Egan "noted the upset, anguish and torment she inflicted on the victims."
"She said she genuinely did not realise the extent of her behaviour. She said she is truly sorry."
Having read the victim impact statements, Judge Boyle stressed that the actions of Egan had caused serious emotional and financial consequences to the injured parties. Mr O'Brien had said in his victim impact statement that what impacted him the most was that the defendant had put personal information about his parents online.
Judge Boyle said that this and approaches Egan had made to Mr O'Brien's children had caused him "enormous distress."
Both Mr O'Brien and Ms O'Connell were in court for the hearing.