A Co Tyrone man has become the first person to be charged under the new Protection from Stalking Act Northern Ireland 2022, which received Royal Assent in April.
A defence solicitor for Richard Thomas McFarland (45) of Corickbeg Road, Plumbridge, conceded he is “infatuated with the woman and the messages to her were amorous in nature”.
McFarland is accused of engaging in a course of conduct amounting to stalking the woman which caused her to suffer fear, alarm or substantial distress between June 5 and July 6.
It is further alleged during the same dates he breached a restraining order by contacting her,
He appeared by video-link from police custody at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court where a detective constable said the charges could be connected.
McFarland spoke only to confirm his identity and that he understood the charges.
The detective explained the injured party contacted police to report McFarland had been sending her messages through a Facebook account and she recognised his profile image due to ongoing harassing behaviour stretching back over a year, for which she had obtained a restraining order against him.
Despite this, the woman reported receiving further messages consisting of “Love you” and “Will you marry me?”, neither of which she answered.
Previously she reported him attending her home address uninvited. He was spoken to by police and warned not to contact her again.
“Undeterred, he continued to contact the injured party on social media creating various accounts, sending pestering messages which included, ‘keep safe in my arms, please contact me’,” said the detective.
At one stage she was blocking six to seven accounts daily.
She became very insecure in her own home, investing in CCTV and additional security measures.
When she declined to engage with the messages, McFarland began contacting her family, including her mother, causing further distress.
He was arrested this week, initially denying sending the messages to the injured party, insisting he understood the terms of the restraining order.
Police then showed him screenshots of the messages and he admitted creating the account but continued to deny sending anything to the injured party.
When McFarland’s home was searched two internet-enabled mobile phones were discovered which breached existing terms of bail for existing similar matters involving the same woman.
Objecting to bail the detective said McFarland “appears to have an obsession with the female and police are concerned by his continuous behaviour in creating new social media accounts to contact her”.
A defence barrister accepted his client is “infatuated with the woman and the messages to her were amorous in nature”.
He added: “He has sought help from his GP and is soon to start six sessions of counselling. He has advised me he has no intention of engaging in this behaviour toward the injured party again.”
Deputy District Judge Sean O’Hare refused bail, stating: “No matter what conditions which could be put in place, I’m not satisfied it would be sufficient to prevent offending. The injured party must also be protected.”
The case will be mentioned again at Strabane Magistrates’ Court next month.