A Donegal man has escaped jail for criminal damage to his girlfriend’s Facebook page in the first prosecution of its kind in Ireland.
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had previously pleaded not guilty to raping and imprisoning the woman at her home.
He admitted to the Central Criminal Court that he had posted an offensive ‘status update’ on his former girlfriend’s Facebook account.
The Irish Mirror reports that the 30-year-old was acquitted by a jury last month of raping and falsely imprisoning the woman in her home on the same date in April 2011.
He was charged under the Criminal Damage Act 1991 and faced up to ten years in prison and a €10,000 ($13,700) fine.
Justice Garrett Sheehan asked the prosecution how he was supposed to assess the damage if nothing had physically been broken, according to the Irish Mirror report.
Legal counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions replied that the offense had more in common with harassment than criminal damage and that the harm was reputational rather than monetary.
Noting there was no relevant precedent to guide him in sentencing, Judge Sheehan called it a reprehensible offense, which seriously damaged the woman’s good name, but added that ‘fortunately’ the status was quickly was spotted and taken down.
He imposed a $3,600 fine after the man pleaded guilty to criminal damage.
He had pleaded not guilty to falsely imprisoning and raping the woman at her Donegal home in the early hours of April 6, 2011.
The court heard that the woman remained friends with the man after their relationship ended in January 2011.
The court heard that in the early hours of April 6, 2011, the accused went to her house to confront her over a ‘perceived infidelity.’
When he later left the house, the woman noticed that he had taken her phone.
Evidence was given that he went through her text messages which confirmed to him that she was in a new relationship.
The court heard that he then logged into her Facebook from her phone and posted a ‘status update’ in her name stating that she was ‘a whore’ who would take ‘any offers.’
The man was arrested shortly after and admitted making the post, saying it was because he was angry about the woman’s new partner.
Defense counsel Isobel Kennedy SC said: “They were the actions of a man scorned who had been drinking beforehand.
“This doesn’t excuse what he did, but might help explain it.”
Counsel also said his guilty plea was very helpful to the police, particularly because no one from Facebook had given a statement and no one was ever likely to.
Kennedy said her client now has a new partner who was supporting him in court along with his parents and had also secured a new job.
She added: “He made a full and frank admission to police and is very remorseful.”