Elaine McAlinden, aged 58, from Hill Street, appeared before Craigavon Magistrates Court on Friday charged with one count of harassment.
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A prosecutor revealed that on October 19, 2022, police received a report of from James H Rodgers and Co Solicitors in Portadown. Police spoke to a legal secretary who told them the office had been receiving an ‘exorbitant amount of unwanted, repeated nuisance calls’ from a previous client (the defendant) over the course of several months documented by staff since June 4, 2021 until August 30, 2022.
Staff said the defendant had been reported to police on June 29, 2021. The prosecutor said: “She was warned that if this behaviour continued there would be no other choice than to pursue legal means.”
Then on October 19, 2022 the defendant arrived at the solicitors’ office in person and was asked to leave.
“Staff were concerned this behaviour was escalating, was affecting their work and as a result decided to provide a statement with regard to the harassment charge,” said the prosecutor.
On January 15, 2023 police went to the defendant’s home address to interview her regarding the harassment and she admitted to arriving at the solicitor’s office but denied making ‘repeated, excessive calls’ to the solicitors’ office.
McAlinden’s solicitor said the case had gone forward as a "narrow contest” – which was disputed by District Judge Bernie Kelly who pointed out that “a contest is a contest” and she loses credit if it is not proceeded with as a guilty plea. Referring to the defendant’s record, the district judge said: “This is her modus operandi, harassing people.”
McAlinden’s solicitor said that there had to be “a trigger” for his client to have got to this point with having a “previously clear record”.
"There were clearly very substantial issues. I don’t have knowledge of all the facts relating to those. It resulted in this defendant parting ways with her children,” said the solicitor, adding that McAlinden “was trying to find answers and was not looking in the right places”.
The solicitor admitted his client was in “some jeopardy because of the suspended sentence”. He added that she had been offered help with the Community Mental Health team.
"There are addiction issues in the background as well. A tragic situation,” he said.
The district judge said: “If you look at the last two entries on her record, she got a suspended prison sentence on May 21, 2021 for harassment and improper use of telecommunications. That suspended sentence was extended. So she is in breach of a suspended sentence for exactly the same offence.”
McAlinden’s solicitor said this “might be one of those exceptional cases” but the district judge responded: “She already got that on February 23, 2022”. referring to the extension of a suspended sentence.
The district judge said to the defendant: “Your entire record is littered with offences of harassment, improper use of public telecommunications, breach of restraining orders. You are one of these people who don’t know the meaning of the word ‘no’. Despite all that has gone on in the past you decided to pester somebody. You got somebody’s name out of that office and you did not stop. Despite being asked to by staff in the office and by police you carried on. And at the time police spoke to you, you already knew you were under a suspended sentence for exactly the same type of behaviour. But you carried on regardless.
"When you did come to be sentenced in February of last year for breach of a restraining order, the previous suspended sentence was further extended, given to you by the court in the hope you wouldn’t engage in this sort of behaviour. Here we are back again.”
The district judge imposed a jail term of four months plus the offender levy of £25. She invoked the suspended sentence imposed on February 23, 2022.
“For the main headline charge, which was breach of the restraining order, I will impose that to the extent of two months. The next two suspended sentences – going back to October 6, 2022, those will run concurrently with each other and I will impose those to the total of two months in each case. That, plus the breach of the suspended sentence and today are all going to run consecutively which means a total of eight months custody,” said the district judge.
McAlinden was brought down to the cells but some time later she arrived in the dock with her solicitor requesting that her sentence be appealed.
District Judge Bernie Kelly said: “Ms McAlinden has an automatic right to appeal. She does not have an automatic right to bail pending appeal. My biggest issue is that I know from her record that she has a tendency to leave court and go back out and replicate the same offences. She has done that in the past. I can’t think of any conditions, given that we have a restraining order in the past, that I could put in place that will stop her doing that. So, for the purposes of her entering her recognisance simply to prosecute her appeal, I will set the amount of her recognisance for £250 but I am not releasing her pending appeal. She can appeal that.”
McAlinden’s solicitor referred to a “modest” criminal record to which the district judge responded: “Every single entry on her criminal record is for exactly the same thing.”