A Co Tyrone woman walked free from court on Thursday with a suspended sentence after she admitted trying to blackmail a man during an “acrimonious” land dispute.
Sharon Marie McElroy, 47, of Tattysallagh Road, Dromore, had previously pleaded guilty to “demanding money with menaces” from the man who cannot be identified for legal reasons.
At a sentencing hearing on Thursday at Omagh Crown Court, Judge Paul Ramsey QC said mother-of-one McElroy had been involved in an “acrimonious property dispute that had been ongoing for a number of years” with the victim.
The court heard that matters came to a head on July 23, 2014 when McElroy got into her car and drove to the man’s home and personally handed him a letter.
The judge said the letter contained an “unsubstantiated allegation” and said that if he didn’t withdraw from the legal proceedings relating to the dispute she would make public the allegation.
The victim was “left distressed” by the contents of the letter and, after seeking legal advice, contacted the police.
Judge Ramsey QC said that at police interview McElroy made full admissions, saying she had “acted spontaneously without thinking of the consequences”.
The court heard that those who knew McElroy said that at the time she had “lost the plot”.
“Blackmail is a serious offence and one that we are only too familiar with in Northern Ireland,” said Judge Ramsey Qc.
But he said that McElroy was “deeply ashamed and remorseful – there was the public humiliation on her since she pleaded guilty in court to this charge and has lost her good name”.
The judge added that, during interview with the Probation Service for a pre-sentence report, McElroy described her blackmail action as her “moment of madness”.
Although Judge Ramsey QC said that the custody threshold in the case had been met, he had decided not to send McElroy immediately to prison given her personal circumstances, her remorse and her previous clear record.
“For the offence of blackmail I am going to impose a sentence of 12 months but I am going to suspend that sentence for a period of two years.
“That means that if you commit a further offence which carries a custodial sentence, this sentence may be put into effect and may be imposed consecutively to any other sentence.
“But if you stay out of trouble and don’t come to any further police attention, then you will hear no more about this matter.”
He added that he hoped both sides in the land dispute, which has almost reached a resolution, could soon “put all matters behind them”.