An 11-month suspended sentence was imposed on a city man for the constant and disturbing harassment of his next-door neighbour over an eight month period.
The Galway District Court heard on Monday how the 47-year-old defendant, who was diagnosed with a chronic paranoid psychotic illness, had been under the delusion that he was in a “loving relationship” with his frightened neighbour, sending her numerous letters, sketches of an explicit sexual nature, and even a creepy rag doll. Some of the harassment occurred while the man was under the involuntary care of the psychiatric unit at UHG.
Robert Butler, with an address at 40 O’Conaire Road, Shantalla, pleaded guilty to harassing the woman on dates between May 24, 2009 and January 13, 2010, contrary to Section 10 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act.
Garda Paul McNulty gave evidence that the injured party had made an official complaint against Butler on December 19 last year, telling gardai that letters were received for a few months and that Butler’s brother had been contacted about the matter. On January 12 last another complaint was made after the woman received two letters of a “sexual nature”.
“She was very worried that he had been let out of the psychiatric unit,” said Garda McNulty, who added that he met with Dr Elizabeth Walsh a few days later and received permission to interview Butler regarding the allegations.
The harassment began when the first letter was sent by Butler on May 24, 2009. The woman found an envelope with her name written on it and a letter which was signed “from Robert next door”. In the letter Butler said how he was very sorry that he had hurt her and that he was tormented by guilt. The following June the injured party was cutting her lawn when Butler looked over the wall and asked her had she received a letter. In early July, Butler hand delivered another letter to the woman. The message, written in crayon, asked for forgiveness and said that he was sorry for hurting her and that “it was wonderful” to be living next door to her. The woman immediately contacted the defendant’s brother to voice her concerns.
Garda McNulty explained that it is not known what the defendant was apologising for. He added that four more letters were sent in August 2009 and that the harassment got progressively worse. On one occasion a housemate arrived to find a rag doll on the doorstep; the doll had a piece of mirror attached to it and a note saying: “You’re a sweet soul”. In September the injured party had been upstairs working when she heard a banging noise coming from the back of the house. When she looked out she could see that three wheelie bins had been knocked over. Moments later she heard knocking at the back door and Butler was seen walking around the house before banging on the front door and looking through windows. The woman rang Butler’s brother but by the time he arrived Butler had already returned to his own home. Soon after he rushed out of his house screaming and roaring her name. On September 18 an envelope with her name written in red crayon was dropped at the house. Another complaint was made to gardai and the defendant was admitted as an involuntary patient in the UHG psychiatric unit.
However, the woman returned home on January 4 this year to find a blank envelope waiting for her. The letter inside had the address as the psychiatric unit at UHG and the message was that he was in love with her and needed money. A week later Butler arrived at the woman’s house. She told him not to send any more letters and he agreed but he then remained standing at the door making her feel intimidated and afraid. The following day she received a drawing of a nude man and woman embracing each other. The court heard how Butler admitted the offences and has since been in the care of the psychiatric unit at UHG.
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Walsh gave evidence that Butler has longstanding mental health issues and suffers from a chronic paranoid psychotic illness. She explained that there had been two admissions; the first, in September 2009, had been “very difficult”, said Dr Walsh, and ended with Butler discharging himself, while the second, in December, had been an involuntary admission. Regarding the latter admission, Dr Walsh said that Butler had difficulty at first accepting his illness but that since then he has made a “massive improvement” and has been taking his medication and abiding by his bail conditions.
“Things were initially chaotic but after three to four weeks his mental health settled. We felt it was appropriate for him to go to the shop and get cigarettes, it was at this time that the injured party received the distressing letters and we’re sorry for that. He went to the house instead,” said Dr Walsh who added that following this Butler started taking his problems seriously.
Dr Walsh told the court that it is recommended for Butler to live in supervised accommodation within the community and that he was considered “safe” as long as he is supervised and takes his medication. She added that Butler will remain in the psychiatric unit until suitable accommodation is found for him.
Defence solicitor Adrian MacLynn said that his client suffered from early psychotic difficulties which was not picked up. He was “delusional, that there was a loving relationship with the injured party”.
Judge Mary Fahy imposed an 11-month jail sentence suspended for two years on condition that Butler stay away from the injured party and her family, that he has no communication with her by any means, that he reside under the supervision of either the HSE or the Simon Community, that he take all medication and obey all the requests and directions of medical professionals, and that he be of good behaviour.