Hazel Stewart's high-flying barrister who stalked ex-girlfriend in campaign of vile text abuse avoids prison term
A senior barrister's legal career is in tatters after a judge convicted him of bombarding a former lover with demeaning text messages including vile taunts wrongly suggesting she was the victim of incestual sexual abuse.
Peter Sefton – who has represented a number of high-profile clients including double-murderer Hazel Stewart – was given a suspended prison sentence for the campaign of abuse against the woman who was half his age at the time of the relationship.
The court was told that, at the time, Sefton was already the subject of a restraining order for pestering another former partner.
Convicting the barrister and Belfast Royal Academy governor of harassment at Craigavon Magistrates Court, District Judge Liam McNally told him that a three-month jail term was appropriate given the circumstances.
The judge added, however, that he was suspending that sentence for two years, not because he was a barrister, but that "albeit belatedly you took the sensible course and stopped this conduct".
As well as the suspended jail term, Judge McNally ordered 64-year-old Sefton to pay £3,000 compensation to his victim or face three months in jail, and imposed a two-year restraining order barring him from contacting his ex-girlfriend and from "publishing any article or image of her on the internet or any social media site".
During a three-day contest hearing last week the court heard how Sefton and his ex-girlfriend, a social worker in her early 30s, met through working at the courts and began a relationship in March 2012, but that by the beginning of May there were problems and had become an "on/off relationship" with the victim receiving numerous "worrying texts".
"One minute he was telling her that he loved her and the next the texts were hateful in nature," prosecution lawyer Ros Scott-Bell told the court.
A 600-page document of text messages was handed to the judge. Among them Sefton told his ex-partner that she was "one f***** up lady" and that "if I were a betting man, I would bet that you were sexually abused by your father or uncle".
Quoting from other texts, the court was told how Sefton repeatedly told her to "f*** off," to go f*** yourself, no one else will", and that on one occasion, having been parked outside her house for hours, repeatedly texting to ask for "a cup of tea".
Ms Scott-Bell said Sefton also took to driving past and parking outside her home, sometimes for hours and often in the early hours of the morning, and that he would text or call while outside.
Three days later she told her spurned lover: "Peter, all this driving past my house has to stop. It's getting out of hand. It needs to stop or I will go to the police."
Despite that plea Sefton "continued to inundate her with texts" and she reported the matter to the police on June 15, after which officers served him with a formal police inquiry notice (PIN).
The next day Sefton wrote on his Facebook page: "Why are there so many bunny boilers about?", and when asked what he meant, replied: "A mad vengeful woman, some of them are not far away."
Sefton also told his victim to log into his Instagram account and when she did she found a picture of herself and another of the lawyer's ex-partners with the caption "stunning lady, great f***".
Arrested and interviewed by police in September 2012, Sefton denied doing anything wrong.
Making his plea in mitigation, solicitor Richard Monteith said Sefton, from the Long Rig Road in Nutts Corner, Crumlin, faced further potential sanctions from the Bar Council's disciplinary board.
Legal career of double-killer Hazel's brief now in tatters
BY CHRIS KILPATRICK
As one of Northern Ireland's most high-profile criminal barristers, Peter Sefton has defended or prosecuted notorious murderers during some of the biggest trials to have taken place here.
His glittering legal career is now in ruins after shocking revelations regarding a vendetta of vile abuse he waged against a former partner half his age.
A barrister for more than three decades, Sefton was part of double-killer Hazel Stewart's defence team throughout her trial for the murders of her then husband, RUC constable Trevor Buchanan, and Lesley Howell, the wife of her ex-lover Colin Howell.
Previously Sefton prosecuted love-cheat murderess Jackie Crymble, who was jailed in 2007 along with her lover Roger Ferguson for killing her husband Paul (35).
In 2006 Sefton was part of the prosecution team against Mark Haddock, a Special Branch agent within the UVF, who received a 10-year sentence for GBH against Trevor Gowdy, a pub doorman.
Sefton represented George Brown at the beginning of legal proceedings against the Coleraine gas fitter. Last week Brown was jailed for two years for the manslaughter of teenagers Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson, who died in a fume-filled apartment in Castlerock in 2010.
In his personal life Sefton has experienced the grief of having close relatives murdered.
His parents, retired RUC reservist James Sefton (65) and Ellen Sefton (66), were murdered in an IRA booby-trap car bomb attack outside their Lyndhurst Gardens home in Belfast in 1990.
He hit the headlines in 2012 when he claimed he was discriminated against by not being appointed a Queen's Counsel.
In May of that year an industrial tribunal ultimately said it did not have the authority to rule on the complaint because QCs are appointed by Royal Prerogative.
The appointment panel said it robustly denied there was any substance to the allegations.
Sefton was also in the media spotlight in 2007 when he was fined £150 and banned from driving for one year for drink-driving.