A Galway man whose perverted harassment of his neighbours, including looking through the window of their teenage daughter while she changed, was sentenced to eight months in prison.
James Gannon (59), of 29A Hawthorn Place, Knocknacarra was convicted of a single count of harassment between June 1, 2019 and April 20, of 2020 at Galway District Court after a contested hearing.
The court heard that Edwina Clarke and her daughters were made to feel unsafe in their own house and garden ever since moving into number 29B in 2017.
Gannon was constantly watching them in their garden and house over the wall between their gardens, and later over a fence they had installed.
The court heard that on top of watching them he was constantly making loud and often grotesque noises, and more, as part of a long campaign of harassment it was alleged, some of which was shown to the court in videos recorded by the complainant.
Among the more disturbing incidents detailed to the court were incidents where he would look through the bedroom window of one daughter as she was changing.
Solicitor for the defence Mr Martin Ward argued that this was a “neighbours dispute” which got out of hand over a wall between their gardens, and that Gannon denied that he had been harassing the Clarkes.
But Judge Mary Fahy said that it had gone far beyond that level, saying that he had made young girls feel afraid in their home, and was behaving like “an absolute pervert”.
Edwina Clarke told the court that from “day one” when they moved into their house at Hawthorn Place in 2017, Gannon was leaning over a dip in the wall between their gardens, constantly looking through their dining room and bedroom windows.
At the time her husband Andrew Clarke, had a job in the UK and was only at home two or so nights a week. He later had to leave that job to stay home as the harassment worsened.
She detailed that when she is out in the garden he would constantly be making masturbating sounds or belching, making faces, or he would lean out his own house window and spit food in her direction.
At first she tried asking him to stop looking into their home, saying that he was scaring her daughters, but the behaviour continued.
She said that in late 2018 she and her husband decided to raise the height of the boundary wall the following Spring, and that Gannon agreed to it. But, she said, the same day that the builder added the two rows of blocks to the wall, he knocked them down with the help of his son, yelling at them that “this wall is coming down now”.
After the incident with the wall, they put up a larger fence on their side, she said. But Gannon continued to look in on them using a ladder, and later built concrete steps and a ledge into his garden to do the same.
During a heated cross-examination, Mr Martin said that his client never consented to the wall being raised, and believed that they would be putting up a fence.
Gannon also denied knocking down the blocks, saying that he wasn’t in Galway that day, and removed them carefully when he came back.
He also claimed that Edwina Clarke would frequently shout abuse at him, and that Andrew Clarke began making threats against him after the incident with the wall.
Garda Ronan McNulty gave a brief outline of the timeline of events in this case, saying that he first took a statement from Mrs Clarke on September 12, 2019 and cautioned Mr Gannon.
However, when further complaints were made the following year, he issued Gannon with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) in February 2020. More statements were taken that April, and on May 21 he was arrested and charged with harassment.
While several discs of recorded videos were brought to court, only one could be played as the defence objected to showing any footage taken outside the timeframe of the charges.
However multiple videos were shown which showed him approaching the fence between their gardens on multiple occasions, either looking over from a raised platform, or looking through along the length of it.
In just one of these videos Gannon could be seen peeking through the fence separating the gardens at a Mrs Clarke while in a bikini on a sun lounger.
The Clarkes’ 17 year old daughter, who was then 14, gave evidence that on multiple occasions she had seen Gannon watching her get changed through the window of her upstairs bedroom, which is nearest to his garden.
These days she has blinds on her windows, she said, and rarely opens them. On top of that, whenever they were out in the garden he would hit golf balls against the fence and watch them over the raised platform, she said.
Marian Ward, who lives on the other side of Gannon’s house, also testified to the court that when she was working in the upstairs room of her house she uses as an office, she could see a large part of his garden.
She would see him “almost playing hide and seek” between his garden and theirs, looking through the slats of the fence, and also banging golf balls and footballs against the fence.
On other occasions she said that when she was around the side of her house, she could hear him in his garden making noises as if he were masturbating, saying that it was “disturbing to even have to report it.” The defence objected to her “drawing inferences” in this instance.
Giving evidence in his own defence, James Gannon claimed that he had a friendly relationship with the Clarkes when they first moved in. He said that Mrs Clarke invited him into their home to see the refurbishments they had done, and that he spoke with Andrew Clarke most weekends.
He said that he was under the impression that the Clarkes were going to be putting up a trestle fence. The first he heard about raising the wall was the week beforehand he claimed, and he did not agree to it.
Mr Gannon said that on the day the work was done raising the wall, he was in Mayo working on his parents farm. Only his wife Teresa, from whom he is now separated, was present at the time he alleged, something she also said when called to give evidence.
But while he said he wasn’t present that day, the state had called the builder who did the work as a witness, and he said that Gannon was there. They chatted while he was working, the builder said, and no objection was made to him at the time.
When asked about this by Inspector John Maloney, Gannon said that the builder was “totally confused” and that they never met.
Gannon said that after he got back from Mayo he spoke with Andrew Clarke on the phone, saying that he wanted to remove the blocks. He said that he carefully removed and cleaned them with the help of his son, and stacked them in the Clarkes’ garden.
He claimed that when Mr Clarke arrived back in Galway he threatened him, saying that he was going to be a dead man. He claimed the relationship deteriorated after this, and further alleged that the Clarkes put two peepholes in the fence they later installed.
Judge Fahy cut across him to ask why the camera footage clearly shows him looking through and over their fence, noting “your chin was up to the sky”.
Gannon said that there was a gap in the fence that he would end up looking through during the summer, and claimed that sometimes he would look around “instinctively” when Mrs Clarke tapped on a window trying to get his attention.
For his part, Andrew Clarke denied ever making any threats when cross examined by Mr Martin. He said that he had spoken frequently with Gannon about raising the wall, and that he often asked him when it was going to be happening.
Inspector Maloney questioned Gannon about what he saw in the videos shown to the court, and the responses he made when first shown by Garda McNulty while being interviewed.
The video footage shown to the court clearly shows him looking over into his neighbours’ garden from a raised platform, and through their fence, the Inspector said.
In response to Garda McNulty’s questions at the time Gannon responded “I didn’t know I couldn’t look into their garden”, answered ‘yes’ when asked if he peeped on the Clarkes on a daily basis, and said that he didn’t know there was anything wrong with looking through the fence.
Judge Fahy said that everything possible had been done by the Clarkes to avoid raising this to the level of criminal harassment charges, but that James Gannon “doesn’t listen to anyone or anything”.
She said what she saw on the videos shown in court was shocking. “He has been carrying on like an absolute pervert, and there’s no other way to put it.”
The only victim impact statement she needed to hear was the complainant’s plain words that this has been ongoing up to the present, the judge added.
She imposed an eight month prison sentence on Gannon for harassment, refusing to suspend any portion of it as she didn’t believe that he would take the lesson of a suspended sentence.
At the request of Inspector Maloney, Judge Fahy also granted an order under Section 10 (3) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, that Gannon was not to beset or communicate with the Clarkes in any manner for a period of five years.
Leave was granted to appeal by the court on Gannon’s own bond of €800, and an independent surety of €600, half of which was to be lodged with the court in both cases.