The last thing the woman convicted of serial harassment in Cork saw before she was taken into custody was barristers in their gowns waiting for the next cases to be called.
The sight of all those lawyers in Courtroom 4 at the Criminal Courts of Justice on Anglesea Street might have reminded Sonya Egan of the day she began her deception of one of her harassment victims more than four years earlier.
Around March 2018, Egan suggested meeting Laura O’Connell near the other Cork city courthouse on Washington Street. Sonya Egan arrived at the café wearing a barrister’s gown and the distinctive white collars of a lawyer.
A barrister fully kitted out on Washington Street would not be an unusual sight any day of the working week. The one thing wrong with this picture in March 2018 was that this ‘barrister’ was not a barrister at all. Sonya Egan was just wearing the gear, giving Ms O’Connell the impression that she was the real deal. And in case there could be any doubt, Egan also said she had just popped out of work in the courthouse to meet her for coffee.
But if this deception seemed outrageous, it was the very least of the deceptive behaviour that was to follow.
A lot of that was perpetrated online. In one instance, Sonya Egan assumed the online identity of the former leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, and in this assumed role she made the completely groundless and untrue ‘confession’ via email that ‘he’ was the biological father of Sonya Egan. This email was sent to Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien who was a TD at the time.
People sometimes leave court cases shaking their heads saying, “You couldn’t make it up.”
The depths and the extraordinary reach of the countless acts carried out by Sonya Egan in furtherance of her harassment of Mr O’Brien and Ms O’Connell would be hard to make up. Even a glimpse of what was done to Laura O’Connell is chilling:
- “A person known to Sonya Egan posed as a social worker, entered my home and captured private and personal information about me … and my family."
- “Sonya Egan would bang down my door causing public scenes in my neighbourhood."
- “Sonya Egan has followed me to the garda station."
- “She has recorded me and had others video me in court."
- “She has accosted me in the street."
- “She has spread heinous rumours about me and caused (others) to accost me."
- “Sonya Egan has made several claims that I have caused her to miscarry, caused her to attempt to take her own life."
- “She has accused me of being involved in paedophile rings, drug dealing, drinking with minors and that my house has several male visitors."
- “Sonya Egan has made every attempt to destroy my good reputation, my hard work efforts and my health – including my mental health.”
Laura O’Connell fears it will never stop.
Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien, who was a TD at the time, had a similar catalogue of behaviours and messages directed at him - and again to others about him - which would be hard to make up.
Egan told him that the only way to stop her harassment was for him to reciprocate and tell her what she most wanted to hear – that he loved her.
- Jonathan O’Brien believes that Sonya Egan created as many as 20 different online profiles through which she contacted him.
- In one such act of phishing, she claimed to be a personal friend of Mr O’Brien’s late father who had died seven years earlier.
- She sent him pictures of his deceased father many times over.
- Sonya Egan visited the offices of Births, Deaths and Marriages to enquire about the precise date of the late Mr O’Brien’s death.
- Sonya Egan contacted numerous members of Sinn Féin by email and told them the TD was bullying her and had betrayed her trust.
- She named him on Facebook as someone who had bullied and betrayed her.
- She said he caused the loss of a baby she was expecting.
- She threatened suicide, saying he had driven her to it.
- She would text him about a car parked outside his house saying it showed he was with his ‘tart’.
- Sonya Egan told Mr O’Brien personal details about his elderly mother who was ill in hospital without it being at all clear how she could have found out such a private matter.
- Sonya Egan made public claims that Jonathan O’Brien assaulted her.
- She sent him over 100 text messages some days.
- She sent him more than 1,000 emails
- Phone calls and SMS messages from Sonya Egan to Jonathan O’Brien ran to a total of over 5,500 in one six-month period.
Because of the incredibly personal nature of the harassment of both victims, one might imagine that there was a long and tangled history between accused and victim - that their lives overlapped for many years and through many mutual friends and connections before things eventually went sour and then twisted into Egan’s harassment.
But no, Sonya Egan did not know either person terribly long before her behaviour became disturbing.
Laura O’Connell didn’t know Sonya Egan at all when the accused turned up at a community meeting about four years ago where there was a discussion about a local objection to planning permission. Ms O’Connell recalled that Egan “made a beeline” for her at the meeting and offered her assistance. It was shortly afterward that she put herself across as a barrister.
Sergeant John Sheehy of Gurranabraher garda station who led the investigation into Sonya Egan’s harassment of Ms O’Connell and Mr O’Brien, said: “After meeting her on a couple of occasions, Laura O’Connell became apprehensive of Sonya Egan and began to distance herself from her.
By May of 2018, Laura O’Connell was being visited by two social workers asking her questions of a personal and sensitive nature. It was only afterwards that she discovered they were not social workers at all.
One can imagine that before all this, Ms O’Connell must have been a reasonably strong character, taking on the challenges of community activism and starting her own business. But that is in stark contrast to how she feels now.
Laura O’Connell says: “She has mentally broken me, set me back in my health, impoverished me to the point where I now have to engage with insolvency services and defend an execution order for the exorbitant legal bill I now have to try and pay.
“Today I am too unwell to work because of Sonya Egan’s behaviour. Four years later, I am now but a shadow of myself. At 43, I am a broken woman and on my knees because of Sonya Egan.
“She has put an end to all my voluntary work in the local community and further afield as she just turns up everywhere.
“Sonya Egan poses as several trustworthy professions to vulnerable people. She is a menace to society and one that I was not and am not protected from.
“How is society being protected from Sonya Egan? A person who takes no heed of undertakings to gardaí, injunctions or bail conditions. She has never shown remorse and to this day, she still makes it clear she has an agenda to continue her behaviour.
“After her pleas of guilty, she contacted several reporters to talk about the case and its victims.
“If it had not been for Sonya Egan, I would not have a €26,000 legal bill which is crippling me financially.
“Sonya Egan has made every attempt to destroy my good reputation, my hard work efforts, my health, including my mental health. I fear this will never stop. It has not stopped. What will stop her? I live in fear. I am stressed. I am overwhelmed.”
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.
“In December 2018 she began sending him suggestive comments that made him uneasy. She claimed she had feelings for him that were beyond friendship,” Sgt John Sheehy said.
The TD began to receive numerous emails and phone messages from her and emails from fake accounts which she set up. 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.
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.
“She turned up at his place of work in Leinster House, demanding to speak to him,” Sgt Sheehy said.
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.” Mr O’Brien did not want his victim impact statement read in court but asked for it to be given directly to the judge.
Judge Helen Boyle said she hoped she was not betraying Mr O’Brien’s confidence when she noted from his victim impact statement that: "It caused him serious impact, emotionally and financially. And what affected him most were issues she posted online in relation to his father and his mother – that caused an enormous amount of distress.”
Sonya Egan wrote a letter of apology where she said, “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.”
A feature of Sonya Egan’s behaviour was the way in which she took two diametrically opposed approaches at the same time. For instance, with Jonathan O’Brien she took his name and character in public and set about destroying him. In private she was telling him she loved him and that he could make it all go away by telling her he loved her.
Similarly, in February this year she stood up in Cork Circuit Criminal Court and admitted she was guilty of the crimes of harassment.
As soon as she was out the door she was emailing the 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.
On one hand, "I am guilty. I am sorry. God bless your families". On the other, "I’m not guilty. It wasn’t me. It was someone else".
You couldn’t make it up.