Man who harassed Sharon Ní Bheoláin admits 'seriously sick mind at the time'

Conor O'Hora arriving at the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court today. Photo: Collins Courts.

By Jessica Magee

A Dublin man who harassed RTÉ newsreader Sharon Ní Bheoláin will be sentenced tomorrow for this and three separate counts of possessing child pornography.

Conor O'Hora (41) of Heather Walk, Portmarnock, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassing Ms Ní Bheoláin between March 27, 2013 and January 7, 2014.

He further pleaded guilty to three counts of knowingly possessing child pornography on a mobile phone and on a computer hard drive at Station Road, Portmarnock on February 18, 2014.

The court heard that the harassment involved posting over 30 modified photos of Ms Ní Bheoláin on a website which was reachable through a Google search of her name.

The pornography charges involved the possession of roughly 100 images of children engaged in sexually explicit activity, and 40 sexually explicit and violent online conversations between O'Hora and a co-accused.

Some of the online discussions related to Ms Ní Bheoláin, while others related to three identified children.

O'Hora was remanded in custody overnight pending sentencing and Judge Martin Nolan warned he would certainly face jail for what he termed his “debasing behaviour” and “insidious harassment”

“I've no doubt it caused considerable distress to the complainant and her family. He (O'Hora) must have known that. It was reprehensible and he should be thoroughly ashamed,” said Judge Nolan.

The pornographic images and conversations were “sordid and pretty disgusting,” said Judge Nolan.

Detective Garda Padraig Hanley told Kerida Naidoo SC, prosecuting, that gardaí were alerted after modified images of Ms Ní Bheoláin were found online when her name was put into Google.

The images were active from March 27, 2013 until the account was closed at the request of gardaí on January 17, 2014.

O'Hora's home was searched, his computer and mobile phone were seized and he was arrested by gardaí.

Over 40 images of explicit child porn in the most serious category were found on O'Hora's HP Pavilion laptop with a further 53 images on his iPhone, depicting children from the ages of eight to 17.

Many of the pictures were of three identified children and had been taken from Facebook accounts and doctored to form pornographic images.

The court heard the final offence related to 39 online conversations between O'Hora and a co-accused man, via Yahoo private messenger.

Det Gda Hanley said these discussions were “extremely sexually explicit and violent” and included talk of rape, gang rape, sexual assault, torture, threat of extreme sexual violence and murder.

Some of the conversations referred to Ms Ní Bheoláin while others referred to the three identified children.

O'Hora cooperated fully with gardaí, gave them his various account passwords and voluntarily agreed to be interviewed after the images had been analysed.

He has one minor previous conviction for a road traffic offence.

When Judge Nolan asked why O'Hora had picked on Ms Ní Bheoláin, Det Gda Hanley said O'Hora had “no particular malice, just a fixation” towards Ms Ní Bheoláin.

Sharon Ní Bheoláin.

Pieter Le Vert BL, defending, said O'Hora told gardaí that he didn't wish Ms Ní Bheoláin any harm and that the images and conversations were just “really bad fantasies”.

“It's not something I'm proud of, it's a fantasy thing. It's ridiculous to think she would have any interest in me,” said O'Hora, who added that he had put the images online just so that other people around the world could “get a jolly out of her”.

“I had a seriously sick mind at the time; I got a power trip from looking at little girls' pictures and it got out of control,” said O'Hora.

He told gardaí he had been smoking 12 to 15 joints of cannabis a day at the time as well as drinking and using cocaine when he could afford it.

Mr Le Vert said his client was now clean of drugs having gone cold turkey and had engaged almost 500 hours of group therapy and psychiatric therapy.

He said O'Hora, who had worked previously for Irish Ferries and An Post, was studying maths and statistics with the Open University and had completed an introductory course with distinction.

A letter of apology from O'Hora to Ms Ní Bheoláin was handed in to court along with testimonials from O'Hora's mother, uncle and neighbours.

Mr Le Vert said O'Hora had repeatedly expressed his remorse and had an extremely supportive family who were all present in court.

Judge Nolan said he accepted that O'Hora was at low risk of re-offending and that he had taken constructive steps to reform himself and “engage with his demons”.

The court heard that the co-accused man received an 18-month suspended sentence earlier this year at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, which is being appealed by the DPP for undue leniency.

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