First Dates contestant escapes conviction; judge deems she got 'mixed signals' from celebrity chef

A model, who admitted harassing celebrity chef Dylan McGrath, has been spared a jail sentence and a criminal record but has been given a lifetime ban on contacting him.

First Dates contestant escapes conviction; judge deems she got 'mixed signals' from celebrity chef

A model, who admitted harassing celebrity chef Dylan McGrath, has been spared a jail sentence and a criminal record but has been given a lifetime ban on contacting him.

RTE First Dates star Daphney Sanasie, 26, kept pestering the Belfast-born Masterchef judge after they had gone on two dates in early 2015, Dublin District Court had heard.

She bombarded the chef with nuisance phone calls and disturbing messages including texts about “demons and souls” because she thought it was funny, the court was told.

The model and student from South Africa, who has an address at Jamestown Road, in Dublin 8, pleaded guilty to harassing Dylan McGrath (39) from Sept. 9 until Nov. 21, 2015.

The offence can carry a 12-month jail term but Judge Michael Walsh held today that it it did not reach the threshold for imposing a criminal conviction but he imposed an indefinite ban on her contacting him directly or indirectly and ordered her to stay away from his place or residence, restaurants and places of business.

He found McGrath had given her mixed signals and at one point in a message to Sanasie he was “impolite to say the least”.

Ms Sanasie, dressed in a green jump suit, black high heels and holding a Yves Saint Laurent handbag did not address the court but told reporters after the hearing that she was thankful to her fans for their messages of support and she had no hard feelings for Mr McGrath.

She said she was glad the case was over and it arose out of a misunderstanding.

She had entered a guilty plea last month and the case was adjourned until today when Judge Walsh finalised the case. Sanaise switched to her third set of lawyers just as the hearing began.

The court had heard earlier that Mr McGrath felt threatened and in fear and that “her behaviour was not normal” but she confessed to gardaí that she did it to annoy him and she just thought it was funny.

Judge Walsh said today that after careful consideration the evidence and the log of messages he found that in the messages up until September 9 there was nothing of any significance in them that could be humiliating, intimidating and abusive or designed to wear Mr McGrath down or cause him stress.

Sometimes, he said, there were mixed messages and signals coming from McGrath such as : “What’s wrong darling? I’m having dinner at a conference in Spain” or “I love that coat from your photo” and “I feel like that” and the meaning behind that was difficult decipher.

However, after September 9, 2015 their relationship took a nasty turn and things became somewhat strained.

He accepted she was hurt and upset and he added that it was suffice to say the narrative of one of Dylan McGrath’s messages would be unacceptable in most people’s eyes and "was impolite to say the least".

He noted that some civility was restored at one stage when he text her to say “Forgive you, I do”.

However, he also noted that on one occasion after he had asked her to stop, there were 45 messages from her on the same date.

In assessing the gravity of the offence, he accepted defence counsel Gareth Robinson’s submission that the messages were sent at times when she was under the influence of alcohol.

Dylan McGrath was not present for the hearing but last month when she pleaded guilty he had come to court and later told reporters “I'm glad it's over”.

Prosecution counsel Seamus Clarke told the court that McGrath is a well known chef and owner of restaurants in Dublin who has also appeared on Masterchef. The harassment was principally via phone calls, normal text messages and other's via WhatsApp, he added.

Garda Colm Kelly agreed with Mr Clarke that McGrath made a formal complaint on November 20, 2015.

McGrath explained to Gda Kelly that he had been introduced to her by a mutual friend in December 2014. On February 7, 2015 they met for the first time and their second date was a week later, on Valentine's Day.

The court heard that from then on he had no personal contact with her but there was contact by texting, WhatsApp messages and phone calls. After that, the contact was mostly from her but intermittently contact came from him.

Gda Kelly agreed McGrath had become “concerned at the tenor” of some of the messages particularly in March 2015 when he told her to stop texting him.

The court was furnished with printouts of the messages.

Mr Clarke told Judge Walsh that one message from McGrath said “Stop texting” followed by another, “Stop texting me” and he referred to not having patience for the silliness of her messages.

The court heard that in summer 2015 he became concerned because his brother had been contacted asking for him to cook for a famous footballer's wedding. The court heard she had turned up at his restaurant with two security guards and a photographer and was shown around because she was supposedly organising the footballer's wedding.

Then there was communication from McGrath telling her not to come to the restaurant. He told her he had family issues and he did not want drama. On August 17, 2015, she replied with a message saying: “It was about time I acted like a grown up and let this go”.

Judge Walsh was told on September 9, 2015, between 4.27 pm and 5.01pm, there were three messages “of a graphic nature” and he replied to her saying he was sick of them. He text her back saying he tried to ignore them and he “did not want any more stupid texts” and he told her to “pull it together and stop being selfish and indulgent”.

He then got another message saying she had been in a car accident which never happened. This was followed by a number of messages “mentioning demons and souls”. He told her on September 9, 2015, that he wanted no more contact from her “and he felt threatened and in fear because her behaviour was not normal”.

Gda Kelly agreed that McGrath feared she would come to his restaurant after she sent a text claiming she had an interview there for a job as a hostess, which was untrue.

On September 9 he again told her to stop but on September 28 she sent him a text saying she had been in a car accident. There were phone calls which he ignored but they were followed by a text message from her saying: “Pick up. I want to clear some things between us.”

Over one weekend in mid-November 2015 he received 20 SMS messages and 75 via WhatsApp from her.

In one of them she said "she knew where he lived after he moved and she said they could meet in a cafe close to his address", the court was told.

On October 24, 2015, she text him again to see if she could come to his restaurant but in a text response he made it clear to her “I have to be left alone, you've gone too far, you should speak to someone”. He also sent her a message saying, “NO MORE CONTACT EVER PLEASE”.

She replied with “say sorry to me then, an apology for being ignored”.

Her next message read: "You have to forgive me, seriously, last chance." Judge Walsh heard that he followed that with “Forgive you, I do”. From September 9 until Nov. 21 there was 120 texts, WhatsApp messages and phone calls. He was concerned by some of the calls where he could hear laughing from the other end, “and he knew it was her because he recognised her distinctive voice”.

On December 1 gardaí went to her home and seized a number of phones. When interviewed she admitted she used them to contact McGrath and that he had replied with requests for her to stop but she did not think that they were serious.

Gda Kelly said Sanasie, who has no prior criminal convictions, admitted she did it “because she wanted to annoy him and thought it was funny”. All the unwanted messages and calls were done when she was under the influence of alcohol, Judge Walsh heard.

Following the arrest she stopped contacting him, Gda Kelly said.

McGrath did not want to give a victim impact statement. Gda Kelly said that it caused the chef a lot of undue stress and at the time when he had been suffering from problems with his back.

Pleading for leniency, defence counsel Gareth Robinson said his client came to Ireland two years ago as a student and in that time she got modelling and TV work. Before leaving South Africa both her parents died and it was her intention to return there after the case has ended.

The model was known as Federica Sanasie when she appeared on the first series of the hit matchmaking TV series First Dates last year.

McGrath – one of Ireland's best known chefs – was a proprietor of Mint in Ranelagh in Dublin which was awarded a coveted Michelin Star before opening the Rustic Stone Restaurant by Dylan McGrath on South Great George's Street in Dublin city-centre. He later became a judge on the Irish version of Masterchef which went on to be a massive hit.

A relieved Sanasie spoke of her relief outside court afterwards.

She said: “As you know I pleaded guilty on the 20th of January. I am very grateful for the judge’s outcome today. While the legal matter has been concluded I would like to take some time and reflect on everything so in mean time I would like to thank Gerald Keane and all my fans, all lovely messages they have been sending, my friends and family.

"I am very delighted with the whole outcome and it has been a very difficult time for me because it took the whole year and I'm just glad it is over and I hope everybody else can just move on with their lives.

She also said she held no hard feelings towards McGrath.

She said: “I do wish him all the best like I have no hard feelings. There obviously was a misunderstanding with everything....I am just absolutely happy that this is over and I can move on with my life now."

She then quoted a message from a fan who wrote to her saying: “Dear Daphney, I admire you you have been very brave and strong I enjoy your motivational posts you inspire me never to give up in life no matter how hard the situation may be.”

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