A man who was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for harassing an innocent husband and wife over an €8,500 drug debt owed by their son has had his jail time reduced on appeal.
Karl Hughes, a prospective art student who has an offer to study at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), had threatened to kill the couple’s son unless the money was paid.
CCTV cameras situated at the front of the victims’ house recorded Hughes repeatedly banging on the door and shouting at the couple: “I fucking told you I wanted my money.”
In another incident, he was clearly seen kicking the family’s door and shouting threats towards the house.
The couple felt so intimidated by Hughes’ actions, which only stopped after they complained to gardaí, that they put the house they had lived in for more than 20 years on the market.
Hughes (28), formerly of Castleknock Meadows, Laurel Lodge, Dublin, but now a prisoner of Wheatfield Prison, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassment of the Kennedy family at their home in Rathfarnham, Dublin between April and September 2019.
He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment by Judge Martin Nolan last May.
Hughes later launched an appeal against the severity of the sentence.
In a judgement delivered on Monday by Court President Mr Justice George Birmingham, sitting with Mr Justice John Edwards and Ms Justice Una Ní Raifeartaigh, Hughes’ behaviour was described as “serious offending”.
The family targeted by the harassment, Mr Justice Birmingham continued, had been “entirely blameless individuals who had been made vulnerable by their son’s conduct”.
However, the judge said the court had decided to suspend the final year of the four-year term imposed on Hughes to encourage his rehabilitation.
At an earlier hearing on January 21st, details of an offer Hughes had received from NCAD were given to the Court of Appeal by defence barrister John Fitzgerald SC as he told the three-judge court that the jail term imposed on his client had been excessive.
Counsel explained his client had been diagnosed with depression and not been taking his medication at the time of the offence, and had also been abusing alcohol.
Hughes, however, was now following medical advice regarding his treatment and there was also an offer of employment as well as a place at NCAD waiting for him, he added.
Mr Fitzgerald said Hughes “had mental difficulties, from which he suffered from for some time”, and that the sentence imposed by Judge Nolan had been an error when compared with lighter sentences handed down in the past for similar offences.
Mr Fitzgerald also told the court his client has since turned over new leaf and has not come to the attention of the authorities since his arrest.
“There has been a change in his behaviour,” counsel added.
Kieran Kelly BL, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said the CCTV footage which had been played in court provided “a flavour of some of the visits” made by Hughes to the property.
The visits, he said were “planned, prolonged and effective” in their intention “to cause maximum fear in the household”.
Mr Kelly said the harassment only ended when the family complained to gardaí and submitted that the sentencing judge correctly described the offending as “very serious misbehaviour and the highest end of the scale which could not be tolerated”.
On hearing submissions, Mr Justice Birmingham noted that the victims were so terrified by Hughes’ actions that they felt compelled to put their home of 24 years on the market. “That is all together a different order of seriousness,” he said.
Hughes’ brother Cian (31) was convicted of the same offence and sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.
At Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Garda Peter Finnan told Mr Kelly, prosecuting, that the Kennedy family had previously paid €15,000 to a man after their son Cormac told them his life was in danger if he did not pay a debt he owed.
The family borrowed the money because they were concerned for the safety of the people in the house including their older grandmother who lived with them.
The grandmother died in March 2019 and two weeks after the grandmother’s funeral, Karl Hughes called to the house and asked for Cormac, Gda Finnan said.
After that meeting Cormac took a backpack and his passport and left the house. He has not returned to live in the family home since.
It was a tsunami of fear that overwhelmed us constantly
Gda Finnan said days later, Karl Hughes returned to the house and that was when the harassment began. He said Cormac owed him €8,500. He threatened the family and said he would call again with re-enforcements.
The court heard that Karl called to the Kennedy’s home on five occasions and his brother Cian was with him on three of those occasions.
“It was a tsunami of fear that overwhelmed us constantly. We lived in a suspended existence dominated by the fear of the unknown,” Deirdre Kennedy said in her victim impact statement, adding that the family “experienced total terror and felt under siege”.
“The legacy of this crime is a horrific part of our family history of 2019 which will have life lasting consequences for us a family,” she said.