A senior barrister’s legal career was left in tatters yesterday after a judge convicted him of harassment.
Convicting barrister and Belfast Royal Academy governor Peter Sefton of harassing an ex-girlfriend at Craigavon Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Liam McNally told the lawyer, standing with his hands behind his back, that a three-month jail term was appropriate given the nature and circumstances of the case.
The judge added, however, that he was suspending that sentence for two years, not because he was a barrister and may lose potential work in the future, but that “albeit belatedly you took the sensible course and stopped this conduct”.
As well as the suspended jail term, 64-year-old Sefton was ordered to pay a £3,000 compensation order to his victim or face three months in jail.
A two-year restraining order barred the lawyer from contact with his ex-girlfriend and from “publishing any article or image of her on the internet or any social media site”.
During a three-day contest hearing last week, the court heard how Sefton and his ex-girlfriend, a social worker in her early 30s, met through working at the courts and began a relationship in March 2012, but that by the beginning of May there were problems and it had become an “on/off relationship” with the victim receiving numerous “worrying texts”.
“One minute he was telling her that he loved her and the next the texts were hateful in nature,” prosecution lawyer Ms Ros Scott-Bell told the court.
A 600-page document of text messages was handed to the judge.
As well as verbally abusing his victim, Sefton, from the Long Rig Road in Nutts Corner, Crumlin, also threatened to report her mother for alleged professional misconduct, texting her on May 27 stating: “You and your mother are quite a pair. She is finished and you are finished as a social worker.
“I called you before that I am slow to anger but once there you have made a bad enemy.”
Describing some of the messages as “highly derogatory, malicious and unpleasant”, Ms Scott-Bell said Sefton also took to driving past and parking outside her home, sometimes for hours and often in the early hours of the morning, and that he would text or call while outside.
Defence solicitor Richard Monteith said Sefton had already paid a penalty in that he had not been instructed by the Public Prosecution Service since the matter was reported to police and that he faces further potential sanctions from the Bar Counsels’ disciplinary board.