Many people need an online presence and must be allowed to do so without harassment and lies being told against them via the internet, the sentencing judge declared in a case where a Cork woman was jailed for two years.
Sonya Egan carried out a campaign of harassment against former Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien and a woman working in the community in Cork for a period of approximately one year and had a devasting effect on the lives of both victims.
The judge said that one of the victims, Laura O’Connell, had to have an online presence in order to set up a business and that Mr O’Brien had an online presence as part of his work as a politician. Judge Boyle said: “It is important that people do that without harassment, lies or intimidation.”
“They expended considerable sums to have the content removed from the internet by going through courts. Ms O’Connell needed an online presence to get her business up and running. She should have been able to have that without sustained lies and harassment. The same goes for Mr O’Brien.”
Judge Boyle imposed a three-year jail term with the last year suspended in the case against 43-year-old Sonya Egan, of The Lawn, Lios Cara, Killeens, County Cork.
She was jailed for harassing Mr O'Brien and Laura O’Connell at Cork Circuit Criminal Court.
The third year of the sentence was suspended on condition that she would have no communication with or about the two injured parties for a period of seven years and not approach within 50 yards of their homes or their places of work.
Judge Boyle noted from victim impact statements that the actions of Sonya Egan caused both injured parties serious impact both emotionally and financially.
Jonathan O’Brien said that what affected him most was that Sonya Egan learned personal information about his mother and his father and posted this information online. “That caused him enormous distress,” the judge said, adding that approaches she made to Mr O’Brien’s children also caused severe distress.
The judge said that Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell were required to have a public online presence – Mr O’Brien for his political work and Ms O’Connell for her efforts to launch a business – and that online allegations against them were very upsetting.
Egan first made contact with Jonathan O’Brien in April/May 2017 when he was a Sinn Féin TD and outlined certain problems, and he advised her and offered her moral support. She joined Sinn Féin locally.
Sgt John Sheehy said:
The TD began to receive numerous emails and phone messages from her and emails from fake accounts that she set up, including one purporting to be Jeremy Corbyn, then-leader of the British Labour Party, where it was falsely claimed – in Mr Corbyn’s name – that he was Sonya Egan’s father.
She complained to Mr O’Brien and to his colleagues in Sinn Féin that he had betrayed her trust, bullied her and driven her to the point of being suicidal.
“While these complaints were going on, she would also email him to him to say she loves him and she would drop all the claims against him if he gave in to his feelings for her,” Sgt Sheehy said.
She made reference to an incident in the hospital bedroom where his mother was terminally ill and he did not know how she could have had that specific information.
“He believes that Sonya Egan contacted him using over 20 different profiles. She claimed to be a personal friend of his deceased father who died seven years earlier.
“She turned up at his place of work in Leinster House, demanding to speak to him,” Sgt. Sheehy said.
She falsely claimed that when pregnant she lost the baby due to him bullying her, the sergeant said, adding that Egan made this allegation public online.
When he made a formal complaint to gardaí of harassment she sent him pictures of a rat and publicly posted, “You don’t rat on a republican”. “A disciplinary enquiry was carried out by the local branch of Sinn Féin.
In this meeting, Sonya Egan gave an undertaking to desist from her actions and stop contacting Jonathan O’Brien. She failed to desist,” Sgt Sheehy said.
Mr O’Brien did not want his victim impact statement read in court but asked for it to be given directly to the judge.
When Laura O’Connell met Sonya Egan on October 23, 2018, at a community meeting the defendant claimed she was a barrister and even met Ms O’Connell for coffee on Washington Street wearing a white collar and barrister’s gown. However, Egan went on to claim that Ms O’Connell breached her trust and she began to harass her by bombarding her with emails and Facebook communications about her.
Similar to the harassment of Jonathan O’Brien, Sonya Egan publicly claimed on Facebook that she was going to take her own life due to alleged bullying. When Laura O’Connell contacted Sinn Féin after becoming aware of the other harassment of Mr O’Brien, Egan began to harass her more intensively.
Both victims got civil court orders preventing further harassment by Egan or any contact or the uttering of any defamatory comments, but as soon as they secured the court orders, she began issuing them with circuit court and high court summonses.
Legal representation in these attempts to protect themselves through the civil courts has left each victim with legal bills of around €26,000 to €28,000.
While Sonya Egan pleaded guilty to harassing Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell, in February this year, two days later she wrote to An Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice and the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, stating that while she did plead guilty she did not actually commit the harassment and only admitted it in order to protect an unnamed person.
Anthony Sammon, defence senior counsel, said the accused had written a letter to the court, in which she stated: “Upon reflection, I am incredibly sorry for my behaviour. In no way does any past experience justify my offending. I did not realise the extent of my behaviour until it got out of control.
“I am not going to make excuses, I am truly sorry. I wish the complainants the best of luck. May God be with them and their families.”