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Man threatened to rape former co-worker if she refused sex

February 13th, 2021 8:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

James Steele was jailed at Cork Circuit Criminal Court

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A ROSSCARBERY man was last week jailed for five years after engaging in a six-month campaign of harassment against a woman he met at work, including threatening to rape her and her daughter if she didn’t agree to have sex with him.

James Steele of Reavilleen, Rosscarbery, pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to offences including harassment, criminal damage and attempted trespass, with the intent to commit rape, at the home of Una Ring in Youghal between February 14th 2020 and July 27th 2020.

Sgt John Sharkey of Youghal Garda Station said Steele became obsessed with Ms Ring when they worked together.

Sgt Sharkey told how Steele left the company to take up a new job and asked Ms Ring to help him set up his new office. She agreed to help him and went to his new office on Valentine’s Day last year, but he made an amorous advance and tried to kiss her. She rebuffed him and left.

He then started to text her and apologised for his behaviour. He also offered her a new job in the company he had joined and, most worryingly, asked how her 84-year-old mother was in a nursing home. When Ms Ring didn’t reply, he then threatened to call to her home.

Although the texts stopped in April, she called to Youghal Garda Station in June to report the matter and have it on record. The court heard Ms Ring lived with her daughter (20) and son (18). At that point, she didn’t want to make a formal statement of complaint, Sgt Sharkey said.

But when she got up on July 7th she found the four tyres of her car had been painted pink and on July 13th, she woke up to find a game of noughts and crosses painted on her window with the words ‘I win’ painted on the window sill.

The next day she found an unsigned letter in a black envelope on the windscreen of her car. When she opened it, she found two condoms and a message telling her to leave her back door open. The letter also contained suggestions of a sexual nature and a warning she was being watched.

Another unsigned letter was left on her car nine days later. In it, Steele gave her the choice of having sex with him, or else he would rape both her and her daughter. He warned her not to contact the gardaí.

Ms Ring had CCTV cameras installed at her home on the advice of the gardaí. When she viewed the footage, she identified Steele as the man leaving the letters. Gardaí then carried out surveillance on her house.

Around 3.45am on July 27th, Garda James Heffernan spotted a man entering the driveway and tackled and apprehended him. It turned out to be Steele, who was wearing a snood to conceal his face and was wearing disposable plastic gloves.

He was also carrying a crowbar to force his way into the home, as well as lengths of rope and duct tape. They also discovered that he had strapped a condom-covered 11 inch ‘dildo’ or prosthetic penis to his crotch outside his underwear, but under his trousers.

He was arrested and taken to Midleton Garda Station where he initially claimed that he was simply planning to break into cars in the estate to steal money. He later admitted he had painted Ms Ring’s car and house but he denied sending the letters. He said the dildo was just part of a joke.

However, he finally admitted sending the letters and said that he had hoped Ms Ring would consent to having sex with him. But he said he was willing to act on his threat to rape her. Analysis of his phone showed searches for ‘chloroform’, which can be used as an anaesthetic.

He said he had become obsessed with Ms Ring when working with her and accepted Ms Ring had done nothing to draw this type of behaviour on her, said Sgt Sharkey.

His barrister, Tom Creed SC, said Steele had pleaded guilty at an early stage and co-operated fully with gardaí. He had never come to the attention of gardaí in Ireland, though he accepted he had a previous conviction for indecent assault in his native Australia, when he was 18.

Judge Sean Ó Donnabháin said it was a very worrying case with many aggravating factors, including the length of time involved, the preparations taken, and the level of deviousness involved.

‘Obsession worked itself out in a worryingly dramatic and dangerous manner with upsetting and vile letters and texts,’ said the judge. ‘There was no relationship between these parties at all. There was overbearing intrusion and more and more obsession.’

Thankfully, Steele was caught ‘red-handed’ by the gardaí, he said.

‘This was an invasion of this lady’s home, her privacy, and her individuality and that is extremely serious,’ he added.

Judge Ó Donnabháin sentenced Steele to seven years in jail, but suspended the final two years for a period of five years, on condition he remain under the supervision of the Probation Service. He also ordered him to have no contact with Ms Ring or her family, either directly or indirectly, ever again.

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