A mother of four broke down in tears yesterday after a judge ruled that a deluge of hate mail to her had come from the home of a one-time close friend.
Eileen Nestor was awarded €37,000 by the President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, for having her life “turned upside down” by the anonymous letter-writing campaign of harassment.
Mrs Nestor of Cedar Lodge, Prospect, Gort, Co Galway, sued Nora Connolly and her husband Oliver of Rindifin, Gort, for damages arising from the receipt of the letters. She suffered a nervous breakdown and had to give up her job as a result.
Galway Circuit Civil Court heard that Mr and Mrs Nestor were working hard to put their four children through secondary school and later third-level education. Mrs Nestor applied for and secured a job as a porter with AIB in Gort in 2003.
She was a highly regarded employee, but shortly after starting in her position, she began to receive anonymous letters.
Her husband Michael said that he approached the gardaí as a result. He had been shocked at what was in the letters. One questioned whether his wife was a man dressed in women’s clothes, another referred to her as “a low-class worker”, while yet another spoke of their children being used for slave labour.
“I was absolutely disgusted… I was shocked… it horrified me and disgusted me,” said Mr Nestor.
In all, 24 letters were received, most by Mrs Nestor, but a number by her husband, and others were received by senior management figures in AIB.
Mr Nestor said his wife was not sleeping and would wake at night asking “who is doing this to me”. It was with great regret that she had to leave her job in 2005 because of the effect of the letters which were arriving every six weeks.
The Connollys lived a few hundred metres from them in Gort and Mr Nestor recalled that his brother had been best man at the Connolly wedding.
Mrs Nestor’s GP, Dr Richard Joyce, said the deterioration of her health had coincided with the arrival of the hate mail in 2003. She was depressed, had abdominal pain, and suffered palpitations. She had a nervous breakdown.
Gardaí from Gort station began an investigation into the letters and quickly concluded they amounted to a campaign of harassment.
They made a breakthrough in 2004 when one of the letters contained a downloaded picture of the Nestor family home. Gardaí were able to identify the website it came from and tracked the source of the downloading to a computer linked to an Eircom phoneline in the name of Oliver Connolly in Gort. Both Mr and Mrs Connolly were arrested and a computer seized from their home.
In evidence, Eileen Nestor said she initially thought the letters were a joke, but soon became very concerned about the content. “I knew I couldn’t take any more,” she said, referring to her decision to give up her job. Her bank manager was very supportive.
Defence counsel John O’Donnell applied for a direction because of what he claimed was a break in the chain of evidence pointing to his clients as the source. This was due to the fact that no evidence was found on the computer seized. The application was rejected by Mr Justice Groarke.
The judge said the letter with the downloaded picture of the Nestor home had its origin in the Connolly home. “It’s conclusions are inescapable,” he said.
He was satisfied the other letters also emanated from the Connolly home but the reason was far from clear. The effect, he said, was to belittle and demean Mrs Nestor and invade her home in a malicious fashion.
Mr Justice Groarke said he was compelled to make an award at the higher end of the circuit court scale.
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