herald

Saturday 7 December 2019

Actress 'threatened to send drug dealers to TV presenter's home'

CBeebies presenter Ferne Corrigan
CBeebies presenter Ferne Corrigan

A Dublin actress who threatened to send drug dealers to the home of a BBC children's television presenter has been given an eight-month suspended sentence for a "relentless" online harassment campaign.

Frances Winston (45) pleaded guilty to harassing CBeebies star Ferne Corrigan.

Judge Michael Walsh was given statements detailing the online abuse of the television presenter, who came face to face with her harasser during a sentencing hearing at Dublin District Court yesterday.

Ms Corrigan, supported in court by relatives, was in tears at the end of the case. Commenting afterwards, she said she was happy with the outcome and hoped it set a precedent. People needed to know this type of behaviour was not allowed, she said.

Abuse

Science broadcaster Ms Corrigan graduated from UCD with a degree in zoology and a masters in wildlife documentary production before her successful television career.

Earlier, the judge had said he wanted to consider a victim impact report and garda statements detailing the online abuse. He also had psychological reports on Winston furnished by defence solicitor Colleen Gildernew.

Ms Gildernew asked the court yesterday to note Winston's guilty plea and her client's claims she had previously been in an abusive relationship with Ms Corrigan's father.

The judge said the harassment merited a custodial sentence but he suspended the eight-month term in light of Winston's issues and guilty plea.

The accused began contacting Ms Corrigan in 2015 with serious allegations "she colluded in domestic violence and drug dealing", the judge said.

This continued on all forms of social media, on online forums as well as by email and WhatsApp messages.

"The fact she targeted her workplace is a significant factor in evaluating the serious nature of the offence," he said.

He noted Winston emailed her employer, as well as the BBC press office and CBeebies on social media.

This was most distressing and upsetting for Ms Corrigan and it became necessary for her to close her social media accounts, the judge said. "This had a huge effect on her personal and working life," he added.

On one occasion Winston threatened to call the presenter's home in Bristol in England "or send drug dealers there". It led to Ms Corrigan feeling anxious and vulnerable.

Ms Corrigan, the judge noted, was in the process of changing career, and the judge added "this was largely attributable to the actions of the accused".

There was no justification for the grossly upsetting, shocking campaign of harassment, he told Winston, who sat silently throughout the hearing.

He said the guilty plea did have value and was indicative of remorse. It also spared Ms Corrigan having to give evidence in a trial and face cross-examination.

He said he had carefully considered psychological reports on Winston that she had emotional issues, and moderate depression for which psychotherapy has been prescribed.

Defence solicitor Ms Gildernew had told the court there were two victims in court but just one in the dock.

Stark

Judge Walsh said the defence had referred to wider issues and the fact the accused had been in a relationship with the injured party's father. It was not for the court to comment on the nature of the relationship but to deal with the offences as charged, he said.

Specifically, he added, he was dealing with the offence and the "quite stark" impact it had on the victim.

It merited a custodial sentence but he was suspending it on condition Winston kept the peace and did not reoffend within the next two years.

She will be supervised by the Probation Service for a year and must go to counselling.

Winston was also told she cannot have any contact with Ms Corrigan or her place of work in any way.

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