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'Absolute pervert' ‘Peeping Tom’ who watched teen girl changing her clothes jailed for harassment

CCTV also captured him peering through holes in the garden wall while Ms Clarke lay on a sun lounger.

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A ‘Peeping Tom’ taxi driver, who behaved like “an absolute pervert” has been sentenced to eight months in prison for persistently harassing his neighbours and their two young daughters.

The family had contemplated selling their home on a number of occasions, such was the level of harassment coming over their garden wall on a daily basis, Galway District Court heard.

James Gannon (59), a part-time taxi driver, from Clybaun Road, Knocknacarra, was captured on CCTV leaning over his neighbour’s garden wall – sometimes on a ladder – to spy on them.

The court heard that Gannon stood on a ledge and watched the neighbour’s 14-year-old daughter changing her clothes in her bedroom. “She was in her bra,” the girl’s mother Edwina Clarke said. “This happened more than once – when she found him staring in at her.”

CCTV also captured Gannon peering through holes in the garden wall while Ms Clarke lay on a sun lounger.

At a lengthy contested hearing before Judge Mary Fahy, Gannon denied a single charge that on a date unknown, between June 1, 2019, and April 20, 2020, at Clybaun Road, Galway he harassed Edwina Clarke.

“He has been carrying on like an absolute pervert," Judge Fahy said as she handed down her sentence.

In the case, Ms Clarke gave evidence she and her two young daughters, then aged 11 and 13, moved into their home in 2017, while her husband Andrew worked in London and came home once a week.

“From day one James Gannon would lean in over the garden wall and look up and down our garden and into our house.

“The children caught him looking into their bedrooms and if we were in the dining room or the kitchen, he would lean over the wall and stare in at us.

“This was happening at any time of the day, persistently, non-stop.

“He used the ledge he built (in a raised flowerbed) to watch my 14-year-old daughter changing her clothes in her bedroom. She was in her bra. This happened more than once – when she found him staring in at her,” Ms Clarke said.

She asked Gannon on numerous occasions to stop leaning over the wall and staring into the house at her and her daughters but things just got worse.

She wrote to him in 2018, asking him to stop the harassment and she even brought his now ex-wife, Teresa Gannon, into her home and pleaded with her to get him to stop.

They had sought mediation through the gardaí but nothing worked and the harassment continued.

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Several phone video clips taken by the Clarke family from their daughters’ upstairs bedroom windows were shown to the court.

One clip captured Gannon running up and down his garden, stopping to peer in through holes in the garden wall while Mrs Clarke lay on a sun lounger. Her husband noticed Gannon peeping into the garden on that occasion.

Another clip caught Gannon craning his neck to look into the girls’ bedroom windows from his garden.

Ms Clarke said Gannon built concrete steps on top of a raised flowerbed near the garden wall and was regularly captured on camera standing on it to peer into their garden and home.

She said they often heard Gannon making masturbating sounds and belching sounds in his garden. He also regularly struck objects loudly against the fence.

She said Gannon agreed with her husband’s suggestion in 2019 that the boundary wall between their gardens be raised.

A builder came and put up two rows of blocks along the top of the existing wall. The builder told the court Gannon came out to him and chatted to him while he raised the wall.

Gannon and his son knocked the blocks over into the Clarke’s garden after the builder left. He told Ms Clarke the raised wall was blocking his view. The harassment continued.

Defence solicitor John Martin objected to video clips being shown to the court which were recorded before and after the time period relating to the charge before the court.

He said his client would say Ms Clarke’s allegations of harassment only started when the top portion of the wall came down.

She denied this, telling the court she had asked Gannon afterwards to stop staring at her and her daughters, telling him he was “acting like a pervert”.

Ms Clarke said she and her husband had spent €4,000 to try and get some privacy. They had to build a wall and then a fence and put blinds on all the windows.

“We have contemplated selling our home on a number of occasions,” she added.

Andrew Clarke said his wife had kept a lot of what had been going from him as he was working in London and she didn’t want to worry him.

He gave up his job and moved home when he became aware his wife and girls were scared to be in the house on their own.

He said he and Gannon had got on fine initially and he had agreed to the wall being raised between them.

He said he was in London when he heard Gannon had knocked the wall and he got the first flight home the next morning.

The Clarkes’ 17-year-old daughter gave evidence that she had caught Gannon watching her getting changed through her bedroom window.

“I’ve caught him watching me and I’ve seen him hit golf balls against the garden wall if we are in the garden. He makes noises and he watches us any place he can,” she said.

She said she kept the blinds in her bedroom closed at all times now.

Judge Fahy said it was bad enough for a 17-year-old to have to be called to give evidence before refusing to hear evidence from the younger child.

Neighbour Marian Ward described what she saw and heard coming from Gannon’s garden as ‘astonishing’. She recalled hearing loud screeching noises, like metal grating on rock, that would emanate from Gannon’s garden for hours on end. He would also play the radio “astonishingly loudly”, so loud that she could hear the commentary even with all her windows closed.

Ms Ward had a bird’s eye view of 60pc of Gannon’s back garden from her upstairs office window.

“I could see James almost playing hide and seek in his garden with the Clarkes. It happened all the time.

“I used to find it invasive, just watching it,” she said.

She recalled seeing him one day as he repeatedly hit a golf ball and then a football against the garden wall with a golf club, while the Clarke family were in their garden. The noise was very irritating and would have disturbed a lot of other people, apart from the Clarkes, she said.

Ms Ward said that on more than 10 occasions she heard Gannon make masturbating noises in his garden too.

“This noise was significant. It made me sick to my core. It was abhorrent,” she said.

Garda Ronan McNulty took a statement from Ms Clarke on September 12, 2019, and afterwards cautioned Gannon about his behaviour, and he seemed to take it ‘on board’, he said.

He took further statements from Ms Clarke in January 2020 and again in April 2020 and had initially issued an ASBO to Gannon on February 20, 2020, outlining to him not to stare at the Clarkes, and not make any noises. He said Gannon told him he understood the order.

Garda McNulty said Gannon’s behaviour quietened for a number of weeks but he took another statement from Ms Clarke on April 20, 2020, when Gannon’s behaviour had deteriorated again.

Gannon was arrested on May 21 last year and charged with harassment.

James Gannon gave evidence he got on with the Clarke family initially. They would talk over the garden wall and he had been invited into their home occasionally.

He said he had agreed to the erection of a trellis fence but had never agreed to the block wall being raised, which he claimed was done in his absence.

He said he regularly went home to Mayo to farm for his elderly parents and on the day the wall was built, he had been gone for the day farming.

He said his wife complained to him about the clothes line when he came home that evening.

Judge Fahy put it to Gannon there was very clear CCTV evidence before the court of him acting, “like a ‘Peeping Tom’”, peeping into this person’s garden and she asked him to explain himself.

Gannon replied the fence had been two metres high and they raised it to 2.4 metres.

Judge Fahy told him he was not answering the question and she put it to him again that the CCTV clearly showed him looking into the Clarkes’ garden.

Gannon said he might have looked in once or twice. “There was a gap in that fence. Anyone could see in,” he replied.

Judge Fahy put it to the defendant again that the CCTV showed him going up on a step and looking into somebody else’s property.

Gannon replied that both of their gardens had upper levels.

Judge Fahy said it was clear Gannon was not going to answer any questions.

She again asked him why he could be seen on CCTV persistently looking into the garden.

“I don’t know when it started, but I think it was some time in 2019,” Gannon replied.

“So, you are admitting that you did that?,” Judge Fahy asked him.

He replied he probably did because he could see over the fence from the upper level.

Judge Fahy asked him why was he doing that.

He claimed Ms Clarke would knock on the window to get his attention.

Garda Inspector John Maloney, prosecuting, put it to Gannon that during Garda questioning following his arrest he admitted looking into the Clarkes’ garden.

Some of his answers were: “I didn’t know I couldn’t look into their garden”, “I didn’t know I couldn’t peep through the fence”, “If there is a gap in the fence I will look through it.”

Another answer he gave was: “If I’m putting something in my bin, I will look over the fence.”

“Especially if a woman is sunbathing, I think you would have something to put in the bin that day all right,” Judge Fahy observed.

Teresa Gannon gave evidence she had since separated from her husband but was there on the day the wall went up.

She said their relationship with the Clarkes had been good up to then. There had been no agreement to raise the wall, she said, and it had been done when her husband was in Mayo.

“Do you have any idea why they wanted the wall raised?” Judge Fahy asked her.

“Perhaps they wanted more privacy,” witness replied.

“I wonder why they wanted that?” Judge Fahy asked rhetorically before asking the witness if she had seen any of the CCTV.

Ms Gannon replied she had not seen it.

Judge Fahy said Gannon was brought into court last year, he got bail with conditions and she spoke to him about those conditions.

“But he doesn’t listen to anybody. It’s all his way or the highway,” the judge said.

She reminded Mr Martin his client was brought before the court again this year for an alleged breach of his bail conditions and again he wouldn’t listen but at the time she decided to leave it until the hearing now before the court.

Judge Fahy convicted Gannon of harassment

“Everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their own property and, particularly, young children have to be protected.

“He has been carrying on like an absolute pervert, and there’s no other way of putting it.

“I would be entitled to impose 12 months but as he has no previous convictions, I will leave it at eight months. I do not do that lightly but if I suspend it, I know he will not listen. Most people will listen but not him,” Judge Fahy said.

The Clarke family, who were together at the back of the court, looked visibly relieved on hearing Gannon had received a custodial sentence.

Judge Fahy granted him leave to appeal the sentence, on his own surety of €800 and one independent surety of €600 with half of each to be lodged in court.

The judge made an order under Section 10 (3) of the Act, directing Gannon not to beset or communicate in any manner with the family. Gannon had denied a charge that he harassed Edwina Clarke, contrary to Section 10(1) and (6) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

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