Farmer jailed over campaign of harassment against wife

Court hammer
Court hammer

A 59-year old farmer who has displayed a “wilful disregard for court orders” was jailed on Wednesday for carrying out a campaign of harassment against his estranged wife.

Handing Sean Murphy a seven and a half month sentence, Judge Sandra Crawford told the father of five: “Due to the calculated nature of your harassment, you were bound to know your conduct would have caused considerable stress to your wife.”

Newry Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard Murphy, from Carnally Road in Silverbridge, could not accept the breakdown of his 35-year marriage. The court also heard that following the separation, Murphy had failed to adhere to several court orders, including non-molestration orders to stay away from Caroline Murphy.

Prior to sentence being passed, Murphy’s barrister asked on behalf of his client if Murphy could address the court, but his request was rejected by the Judge.

The court heard that Murphy - who was described in court as a qualified chartered engineer who now runs the family farm - initially denied harassing his wife on a number of occasions between January and March 2016.

A trial was held in January of this year, and on the second day of the hearing and after Mrs Murphy had given evidence, the defendant changed his plea and admitted his guilt. Following the plea, a total of seven charges of breaching a non-molestation were not proceeded with and were ‘left on the books.’

Judge Crawford said that in the period between entering his plea and today’s sentencing, Murphy failed to attend a court hearing which resulted in an arrest warrant being issued. She also spoke of a history of breaching restraining and non-molestation orders.

Regarding the offence itself, Murphy admitted to ‘pursuing a course of conduct which amounted to the harassment’ of his estranged wife.

The harassment including texting Mrs Murphy, sitting outside her house in his car on five occasions, and ‘encountering’ when she was walking from her solicitor’s office to Newry Courthouse.

Judge Crawford said that after listening to Mrs Murphy giving evidence at the trial earlier this year, it was “clear to the court her vulnerability and the fear and distress she suffered” due to this conduct.

The court heard a pre-sentence report was compiled on Murphy, and the probation officer concluded Murphy was in denial that his marriage was over, that he “projected blame” onto his estranged wife, that he took no responsibility for his actions and that he has shown no remorse.

Judge Crawford said the report indicated that as well as there being an absence of remorse or insight, Murphy’s actions also displayed a “high degree of malicious intent.” The Judge told the defendant: “Until you start to recognise the harm your behaviour causes, you will not reduce your high likelihood of reoffending.”

Telling Murphy he had shown a “wilful disregard for court orders designed to protect the victim”, Judge Crawford said that while she accepted the breakdown of his marriage has had a “profound” impact on his, he had to change his attitide towards his offending.

Judge Crawford also issued a restraining order banning Murphy from “intimidating, harassing, pestering or annoying” Mrs Murphy when he is released from custody. Failure to do so, the Judge warned, would result in a further period in prison.