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Fresh start Woman tormented by uncle's vile texts for five years expecting first child

The court heard how Ms Doherty's life fell apart when she began to receive the anonymous text messages including some which even threatened to have her throat slit.

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Martin Hughes

Martin Hughes

Martin Hughes

The parents of a young woman driven to the brink of suicide after her uncle tormented her during a five-year campaign of hatred have revealed she is pregnant for the first time and ready to restart her life.

Co Donegal woman Michelle Doherty thought seriously about ending her life after she was sent dozens of anonymous texts between 2011 and 2016.

The vile texts were of the utmost personal nature and called her a whore, slut and many other names.

But most disturbing was that they knew many personal things about her that only someone close to her family could have known.

On Friday her uncle and godfather Martin Hughes was jailed for harassing Michelle after a painstaking investigation by Gardai resulted in the discovery of a mobile phone in a cardboard box hidden in his garage.

Dressed in a grey suit and striped tie, 68-year-old wealthy businessman Hughes, who made his money in both construction and bars, showed no emotion.

He was escorted away to begin his 12-month jail sentence while his 192 DL-registered Range Rover sat in a public car-park next to Letterkenny Courthouse.

Michelle's loyal parents Mickey and Marion hugged each other as Judge John Aylmer's decision ended almost a decade of torture for their family.

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Mickey and Marion Doherty.

Mickey and Marion Doherty.

Mickey and Marion Doherty.

For Marion, Martin Hughes' sister, the sight of seeing her brother and her daughter's tormenter being jailed was one which she never wanted.

"It was a long nine years not knowing who it was but he was always high on the list. He never liked Michelle.

"It's difficult because it's family and he's flesh and blood. He didn't need to do what he had to do because we had a good family.

"I can never forgive him. Because of the fact that he lives close to us, he lives just three houses part from us.

"But this (sentence) gives us closure. I take no joy out of it. We were not here to see him going to jail but we were here to see Michelle getting justice," said Mrs Doherty.

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Michelle Doherty who was the victim of harassment

Michelle Doherty who was the victim of harassment

Michelle Doherty who was the victim of harassment

The couple, who are well known on the Inishowen Peninsula where Mickey runs a plant hire business and is a former county councillor, said they wanted to simply give their daughter a hug.

Michelle, who is now 44, has resettled in Spain from where she gave her video evidence in the case.

Loving dad Michael said she can now pick up the pieces and start afresh knowing that people in her community know the truth of what she went through.

He revealed how Michelle is now due her first child in February.

"Michelle is strong and she will recover. You want to put your arms around her but Michelle does not need that. She will recover from this.

"She is due her baby in February and that will be a new start for all of us and it couldn't come at a better time," he said.

Michael said he was hopeful that Michelle's story may encourage others to realise there can be closure from abuse and bullying if they come forward.

"I would hope for the future and for a lot of girls that have suffered abuse and bullying from other people that it might strengthen them to come forward.

"It's sad that my daughter had to suffer like she did but I'm glad that it may bring it to the attention of others," he said.

The couple paid tribute to the Garda investigation which painstakingly closed in on Hughes liasing with Interpol and other agencies to eventually track him down.

Detective Garda Martin Egan told the court how people might think it is easy to track down a phone but said an unregistered UK-registered phone is not easy to track because of jurisdiction and other issues.

"That man (Detective Egan) made me a promise that he would get to the bottom of this and put Martin Hughes where he deserved to be and he was true to his word.

"I simply cannot say enough about him and the other Gardai involved," added Michael.

The content of some of the messages was so disturbing that Judge John Aylmer said he only wanted a flavour of them.

Passing sentence, he said this was one of the worst cases of harassment he has ever had to deal with saying the texts had a "devastating effect" on Ms Doherty's life.

He also condemned Hughes for showing no signs of remorse and suggesting that he was justified in some way for carrying out the hate-filled campaign.

He added that he did not agree with suggestions by the defence counsel that there were only 50 derogatory text messages sent to Ms Doherty.

Among the messages sent to Ms Doherty were texts from Hughes saying that he hoped she died of AIDS as well as calling her a whore, hooker and a slut.

In another text, he threatened to have her throat slit.

Hughes, a 68-year-old father and grandfather of Quigley's Point, had pleaded guilty to a single count of harassment.

The court heard how Ms Doherty's life fell apart when she began to receive the anonymous text messages including some which even threatened to have her throat slit.

She moved to Spain and changed her phone number but was left devastated when she began to receive vile text messages there.

Wiping back tears on the court videolink, she outlined the five years of her ordeal during which she said she became both depressed and suicidal.

She said on occasions she physically vomited when she read the texts and was paranoid as to who was sending them.

She added "I was feeling sick and frightened and not knowing what to do. Will the Gardai believe me that I am not that person? My dignity was in shreds. I didn't have any enemies or ex-partners who would do this.

"I would vomit when I would read some of them. I pleaded with them to tell me what I had done but the responses were getting worse and they were clearly enjoying my stress."

She became so paranoid and frightened that she lost the use of her limbs and had to get her mother to drive her to work as a carer at Carndonagh Community Hospital.

However, the texts persisted and she decided to move to Spain for a fresh start but knew nobody.

The texts continued and she said she was gradually losing her mind.

She moved back to Ireland where she said that at least she could be cared for by her family if anything did happen to her.

The texts continued and she decided to move to New York to try and start again but after just a few weeks she broke her neck in a horrific accident.

A few days later she received a text from the same phone which read "You filthy, dirty rotten whore, heard you broke your neck, pity you didn't come back in a body bag."

Barrister for Hughes, Mr Peter Nolan said his client accepted that the texts were despicable.

However, he said it was Ms Doherty who sent the first text message to Hughes back in 2008 expressing glee at the break-up of his marriage.

He also said that Ms Doherty owed his client money after she rented a property from him but didn't pay him rent.

Passing sentence Judge Aylmer said he placed the charge in the mid-range of such offences and initially merited a sentence of four years.

He initially reduced that sentence to one of three years because of an early guilty plea.

He said that because of Hughes' age and the fact that he came before the court with no previous convictions then he was reducing the sentence to one of 12 months.

He said he had the option to suspend the entire sentence but referred to the fact that Hughes showed no remorse and that he blamed a rental dispute and the earlier text sent by Ms Doherty about Hughes' marriage failure.

He also ordered Hughes not to have any contact with Ms Doherty for ten years.

As the judgement was passed Ms Doherty, on a videolink from a home in rural Spain, wept.

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