A COURT order has yet to be made in a case involving a man who sent 160 messages, over a four-month period, to a teenage girl who was half his age.
Barrister Alan O’Dwyer, instructed by Frank Buttimer, solicitor, informed Judge James McNulty at Bantry District Court that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had consented to the withdrawal of a charge of harassment.
Sgt Trish O’Sullivan, for the prosecution, confirmed that the DPP had initially instructed that the case be heard in the district court, but the gardaí had since been informed that the summons was to be withdrawn with conditions attached.
The conditions are that the woman’s victim impact statement be read in open court, and that the accused, Sam Baneham of Maradane, Cunningham Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin, would abide by a court order not to communicate with, or contact, the woman again.
Judge McNulty told the barrister he didn’t want to be ‘horsed’ into making an order and he adjourned the case to the May 11th sitting of Bantry District Court, so he would have time to consider the legal argument.
It had been alleged that between November 26th 2019 and January 23rd 2020 Sam Baneham harassed the 18-year-old by sending more than 160 messages over those months.
According to Sgt O’Sullivan, the woman had asked him to stop but he continued to text and send Facebook messages. It was only after she went to the gardaí in January 2020 that the messaging finally ceased.
The barrister said his client was living in West Cork at the time and that this was ‘the end of a relationship’.
‘It was at the low end of harassment,’ he added. ‘There was no profanity and no threat whatsoever. It was a man looking for closure.’
Mr O’Dwyer also described his client as being ‘apologetic, contrite and remorseful’ for what the woman went through during that period.
Sam Baneham also addressed the court. He said: ‘She asked me to stop messaging her and I did not do that. I am very sorry for any suffering or distress that I caused.’
‘Over the last three-and-a-half years, I made no effort to contact her or anyone in her sphere. I would like to apologise for my actions. I cared a lot about the woman in question, but I accept that I didn’t honour her wishes.’
Reading from the victim impact report, Judge McNulty noted it was written directly to Sam Baneham.
‘You are my stalker,’ the woman wrote. ‘You are the person who caused me all this pain and grief. You relentlessly harassed and manipulated me.’
Noting that ‘the shoe is on the other foot’, Judge McNulty observed that the woman, who once felt ‘powerless and besieged’ is now being ‘merciful’ to the defendant.
The woman said she was consenting to this course of action ‘because although you had no problem terrorising me, I knew that you yourself have a young daughter, and I would feel awful to think of the sadness in her heart if her father had potentially gotten prosecuted by the State for harassing a teenage girl.
‘The realisation,’ she wrote in her victim impact report, ‘that I have the power over the outcome of this situation was a moment of great strength and healing for me.’
She said that for three years, Sam Baneham had made her feel small, unheard and unseen. ‘I was 18 then, but now I am 21, and so much stronger.’
When Judge McNulty questioned the age difference, the barrister said his client is ‘a very sensitive and soft man’.
Judge McNulty said his preferred course would have been to deal with the case by way of a conditional discharge.
‘There is no plea of guilty, and no evidence has been heard,’ he said. ‘I am seeing and hearing about this order for the first time.’
Mr O’Dwyer pointed out that if the court order isn’t followed ‘there can be a penalty’.
The issue will be concluded on May 11th next.