harassment | 

OAP who posted ‘nasty’ Facebook messages about man involved in Strokestown evictions is jailed

Tom Dignam (72) called Mr Devlin a 'scumbag who should be hounded at every opportunity’ and added that he was ‘scum of the earth’

Tom Dignam

Burnt-out vehicles at the repossessed home of Michael Anthony McGann near Strokestown, Co Roscommon. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Stephen MaguireSunday World

A businessman who posted messages on Facebook about a company owner involved in the Strokestown evictions in Co Roscommon in 2018 has been jailed for three and a half years.

Pensioner Tom Dignam (72) was found guilty of harassment at a previous trial at Letterkenny Circuit Court in Co Donegal.

The messages referred to Aidan Devlin, managing director of Trinity Asset Management Services which is based in Mulhuddart in Co Dublin.

Mr Devlin was involved in the eviction after his company was hired by KBC Bank after the bank had bought the 33 acre farm at Falsk from the receiver following a legal battle.

Farmer Michael Anthony McGann, who owned the farm, and his siblings David and Geraldine were removed from the property on foot of a possession order during highly-publicised and distressing scenes.

Burnt-out vehicles at the repossessed home of Michael Anthony McGann near Strokestown, Co Roscommon. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Dignam was found guilty following a trial of having posted a number of messages referring to Devlin and his role in the incident.

He referred to him as 'Commander in chief' of the eviction, a statement Mr Devlin said couldn't be further from the truth.

Devlin reported the matter to Gardai and Dignam, of Dooish, Ballybofey, was arrested on November 20th.

Dignam was charged that between December 10th, 2019 and November 2nd, 2020, he harassed Aidan Devlin by persistently communicating with him by posting messages on Facebook.

Although Dignam was arraigned, instead of answering 'guilty or not guilty', he instead said "I am innocent."

When addressed about the law and if he understood what was happening, Dignam told the court on 22 occasions that "I do not understand what is happening."

Judge John Aylmer said that, from previous encounters with Dignam, he did not accept this and he said he did not deem him an "unintelligent man."

Dignam told Judge John Aylmer: “I am a living man. You have no jurisdiction over a living man.”

Judge Aylmer replied: “We are all living, Mr Dignan; there is no-one dead here.”

Witness Aidan Devlin told the court how he had been informed about four posts on Tom Dignam's Facebook page.

He said he had been initially "indifferent" to the messages, in one of which Dignam called him a "scumbag", as he wasn't on Facebook.

However, he said when his children noticed the posts and the level of 'vitriol' that followed he became concerned.

In another post Dignam called Mr Devlin a 'scumbag who should be hounded at every opportunity’ and added that he was ‘scum of the earth’

“I felt very worried,” Mr Devlin said. “I considered it a direct threat to my own personal safety. I felt very disturbed. I interpreted it that violence against me or my family would visit my door.”

"I was frightened for my children and became concerned for myself and my wife and siblings," he added.

Ms Patricia McLaughlin BL, Counsel for the State, said one of the messages had indicated that karma would prevail and another referred to Mr Devlin as the ‘Commander in chief’ of the eviction.

Mr Devlin added that his company's role was to provide assistance to financial institutions, plaintiffs and the sheriff's offices around the country with, among other things, the execution of possession orders over properties.

Detective Garda Shane Killeen of Castlerea Garda Station told the court he arrested Dignam on November 20th and took him to Letterkenny Garda Station.

He showed Dignam a number of messages from Facebook and the accused confirmed it was his profile picture with a picture of himself and his pet Rottweiler dog, Tyson.

He confirmed that he was the chairperson and PRO of the Common Law Information Centre, a group involved in helping people in their dealings with the banks as well as the law and their rights.

He said all he wanted to do was to expose the wrongdoing of Mr Devlin and others when they used people from the North whom he claimed were operating without a licence.

Dignam confirmed that he had posted about Mr Devlin ‘so his neighbours and friends know what he is doing and to get onto him’.

He added that his group did not condone violence against any other man or woman.

Asked if he wished any harm on Mr Devlin, the accused said he did not and he would let the law take care of it.

The accused was asked by Judge Aylmer if he wanted to ask any questions of the two witnesses and he again replied "I do not understand what is going on."

Through the two day trial, Judge Aylmer consistently asked Dignam if he understood what was happening as well as explaining the process of the trial but again the reply was the same.

The jury of six women and five men retired and deliberated for one hour and 37 minutes before returning a verdict of guilty.

Last November, Judge Aylmer adjourned the final sentencing until this week.

A victim impact statement on behalf of Aidan Devlin was also read out in court with the victim saying that while there was much good in social media, people can knowingly exploit it with half truths and lies and there was a small and determined group who were willing to lend an ear to that.

He added that his life and that of his family had been profoundly impacted by Dignam's actions and that they still have worry and emotional distress saying everything has changed.

He concluded by saying that there must be justice to those who peddle false narrative on social media

Before being sentenced, Dignam read out a short statement saying he was an innocent man and then proceeded to walk out of the court before being brought back into the courtroom by both prison officers and members of An Garda Siochana.

Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer said Dignam had previously been found guilty of harassment by a jury of eleven members.

He said Dignam's offence was quite "nasty" and committed against an innocent man who was involved in support of the enforcement of a High Court order.

He said that he posted statements on Facebook which caused the victim and his family to live in significant fear of real violence and that this occurred over a "fairly extended period of time."

He said he placed the offence in the upper end of the mid-range and merited a sentence of four years before mitigation.

He noted that Dignam had just one previous conviction and that was in 1972 for which he was jailed for four months at the Special Criminal Court for possession of explosives.

He said that although the accused did not engage with the court or the case, he knew that he was aged 72 years making a prison sentence all the more difficult.

Judge Aylmer reduced the sentence to one of three and a half years on mitigation, and considering Mr Dignam's age, he was prepared to suspend the final 12 months of that sentence if he entered a bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour to all the people of Ireland.

However, the accused refused to sign the bond saying "I'm not signing anything...I'm not signing any bond because I'm innocent of the charge."

The Court then sentenced Duignan to the full three and a half years.

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