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Listen to victims New stalking legislation would send out 'strong message to any future stalker'

"The current harassment laws do not adequately cover the seriousness of the crime or the impact on the victim"

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Una Ring had been subjected to a terrifying ordeal at the hands of James Steele

Una Ring had been subjected to a terrifying ordeal at the hands of James Steele

Una Ring had been subjected to a terrifying ordeal at the hands of James Steele

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers whose draft bill going through the second stage in the Seanad today aims to make stalking a criminal offence, has said she hopes it sends out a strong message of the seriousness of this crime and the penalty that will ensue. 

Senator Chambers’ bill outlines specific legislation to make stalking a criminal offence, with a maximum sentence of ten years.

Currently, the offence falls under the umbrella of harassment.

Speaking ahead of the introduction of the bill, Senator Chambers said the crime of stalking has a very severe and long lasting impact on the victim, long after the situation has ended.

“The current harassment laws do not adequately cover the seriousness of the crime or the impact on the victim,” she said.

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Fianna Fail Senator Lisa Chambers (Brian Lawless/PA)

Fianna Fail Senator Lisa Chambers (Brian Lawless/PA)

Fianna Fail Senator Lisa Chambers (Brian Lawless/PA)

“We must listen to victims and take our lead from them in framing the law in this area.”

Senator Chambers said she had been working closely with Una Ring and Eve McDowell, the co-founders of Stalking Ireland, to bring this legislation to the Seanad.

“By introducing this new law and making stalking a criminal offence we are sending a strong message to any future stalker of the seriousness of this crime and the penalty that will ensue,” she added.

In February, James Steele (52) from Rosscarbery, was jailed for seven years, two of which were suspended, after pleading guilty to harassment, criminal damage and attempted trespass with the intent to commit rape at Ms Ring’s home in Youghal between February 14, 2020, and July 27, 2020.

The Cork mum-of-two had been subjected to a terrifying ordeal at the hands of Steele, an Australian native.

A court heard that Steele, a salesman and a father of two, had asked out Ms Ring, in February 2020.

Despite being firmly rebuffed, he began sending the woman a stream of text messages - even when she asked him to stop.

After further threats, the terrified woman contacted gardaí and they mounted a special surveillance operation around her home in a quiet estate.

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Gardaí spotted an individual arriving at the housing estate in the early hours of July 27 and Garda James Heffernan identified Steele.

Later, when searched, Steele was found to have a roll of duct tape, a length of orange rope, a medium sized metal crowbar and a sex toy.

Subsequent Garda searches found that Steele had also conducted an Internet search in respect of chloroform.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland Ms Ring changes to the legislation were "badly needed" as stalking was a way more sinister crime than harassment.

Ms Ring said: "When you have the guard stationed outside your home between 12 midnight, and 5am, night after night, that does go beyond harassment.

"They're waiting for a stalker, they're not waiting for somebody who's harassing somebody, they're waiting for somebody who's stalking somebody.

"When you have to seal your letterbox in case petrol is rolled in - that's way beyond harassment."

Ms Ring said that even though she will be notified when Steele is released from prison, she will be “absolutely petrified” when he gets out.

"Nobody can reassure you that he's not going to come back ... people can say it, but nobody thought he was going to come to my house with a crow bar and duct tape."

In May 2020, Polish man Igor Lewandowski from Monasterevin, Co Kildare, was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to harassing Eve McDowell on dates between May 10 and May 27, 2019, in Galway.

In April, Una and Eve McDowell launched a campaign seeking the introduction of specific stalking legislation.

At present, staking is prosecuted under the umbrella offence of harassment, which is part of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

Under that legislation, a person is guilty of an offence if they harass another, by means including by telephone, by “persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating” with another.

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