This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 16 June, 2019
Advertisement

Dublin actress gets 8-month suspended sentence for 'relentless' online harassment of CBeebies presenter

Frances Winston (45) pleaded guilty to harassing CBeebies star Ferne Corrigan on social media.

Image: Laura Hutton via RollingNews.ie

A DUBLIN ACTRESS who threatened to send drug dealers to the home of a BBC children’s television presenter has been given an eight-month suspended sentence for a “relentless” online harassment campaign.

Frances Winston (45) pleaded guilty to harassing CBeebies star Ferne Corrigan on social media.

Judge Michael Walsh was furnished with statements detailing the online abuse of the television presenter who came face to face with her harasser during a sentence hearing at Dublin District Court today.

Commenting afterwards, Ferne Corrigan said she was happy with the outcome and hoped it set a precedent. People needed to know this type behaviour, despite it not being face to face, was not allowed, she said.

Science broadcaster Corrigan, graduated from UCD with a degree in zoology and a masters in wildlife documentary production before her successful television career.

Earlier, the judge had said he wanted to consider a victim impact report and garda statements detailing the online abuse. He also had psychological reports on Winston furnished by defence solicitor Colleen Gildernew.

Gildernew asked the court today to note Winston’s guilty plea and her client claims she had previously been in an abusive relationship with Corrigan’s father.

Judge Walsh said the harassment merited a custodial sentence but he suspended the eight-month term in light of Winston’s issues and guilty plea.

Harassment

Judge Walsh said the harassment continued from 19 February 2016 until 20 May 2017. He had carefully considered the facts of the case which were mainly gleaned from the statement of the complainant and the sworn evidence of Detective Sergeant Jonathan Kelly.

The accused began contacting Ferne Corrigan in 2015 with serious allegations that “she colluded in domestic violence and drug dealing”, Judge Walsh said.

This continued on all forms of social media, on online forums as well as by email and WhatsApp messages.

They were calculated to cause upset and distress in Ferne Corrigan’s private life and in her workplace. “The fact she targeted her workplace is a significant factor in evaluating the serious nature of the offence,” he commented.

He said he noted Winston had emailed her employer, as well as the BBC press office and CBeebies on social media.

This was most distressing and upsetting for Corrigan and it became necessary for her to close her social media accounts, the judge said. “This,” he continued, “had a huge effect on her personal and working life”.

On one occasion, Winston threatened to call to her the presenter’s home in Bristol in England “or send drug dealers there”. It led to Corrigan feeling particularly anxious and vulnerable.

‘A profound impact’

Judge Walsh described the harassment as an on-going, relentless campaign of threats and intimidation for a number of years, which, he said, had “a profound impact”.

Corrigan, he noted, was in the process of changing career, and the judge added that, “this was largely attributable to the actions of the accused”.

Corrigan also suffered financial loss from coming to Dublin to meet investigating gardaí and had to avail of therapy to deal with stress and anxiety caused by the accused.

Most people on social media were law-abiding but there was a minority that loses sense of decency. Everyone had the right to freedom of expression but it carried responsibility and was prescribed by laws necessary to protect the rights of others, he said.

There was no justification for the grossly upsetting, shocking campaign of harassment, he told Winston who sat silently throughout the hearing.

He said the guilty plea did have value and was indicative of remorse. It also spared Corrigan having to give evidence in a trial and face cross-examination.

He said he had carefully considered psychological reports on Winston that she had emotional issues, and moderate depression for which psychotherapy has been prescribed.

Defence solicitor Gildernew, defending, had told the court were two victims in court but just one in the dock.

Sentencing

Judge Walsh said the defence had referred to wider issues and the fact the accused had been in a relationship with the injured party’s father. It was not for the court to comment on the nature of the relationship but to deal with the offences as charged, he said.

Specifically, he added, he was dealing with the offence and the impact it had on the victim, which he described as “quite stark”.

It merited a custodial sentence but he was suspending it on condition Winston kept the peace and did not reoffend within the next two years. She will be supervised by the Probation Service for a year to address rehabilitation and must go to counselling, he also ordered.

Winston was also told she cannot have any contact with Ferne Corrigan or her place of work in any way.

He instructed Detective Sergeant Kelly to monitor her and to bring the case back to court if the terms of the suspended sentence and probation order were breached.

Ferne Corrigan, host of My Pet And Me and Ferne and Rory’s Vet Tales, had provided a typed victim impact statement to court which the court earlier hard was lengthy “because it detailed every tweet and email”.

Winston, who has an address at Rathgar Road, Dublin 6, faced a single count under Section 10.1 of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act.

She was accused that on an on-going basis between 19 February 2016 and 20 May 2017, at various unknown locations she harassed Ferne Corrigan.

In an outline of the evidence given earlier, Detective Sergeant Kelly told the court Winston was charged at Irishtown Garda station after which “she made no reply”.

“The defendant engaged in an online campaign of harassment against a named individual who is not resident in the State, and used various social media platforms to harass this individual in a very public way.”

Judge Walsh had asked if they were connected and the Garda said they were not directly linked but he added, “The injured party is the daughter of the defendant’s former partner.”

Winston played murder plotter Sharon ‘Lying Eyes’ Collins in a 2017 TV3 reconstruction of that case.

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Tom Tuite

Read next:

COMMENTS (20)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel