Tyrone blackmailer gets suspended prison term over land row
A Co Tyrone woman has walked free from court with a suspended sentence after she admitted trying to blackmail a man during an "acrimonious" land dispute.
Sharon Marie McElroy (47) of Tattysallagh Road in Dromore, had previously pleaded guilty to "demanding money with menaces" from the man, who cannot be identified for legal reasons.
At a sentencing hearing yesterday at Omagh Crown Court, Judge Paul Ramsey said mother of one McElroy had been involved in an "acrimonious property dispute that had been ongoing for a number of years" with the victim.
The court heard that matters came to a head on July 23, 2014, when McElroy got in to her car and drove to the man's home where she personally handed him a letter.
The judge said the letter contained an "unsubstantiated allegation" and said that if he didn't withdraw from the legal proceedings relating to the dispute she would make public the allegation.
The victim was "left distressed" by the contents of the letter and after seeking legal advice he contacted the police.
Judge Ramsey said that at her police interview McElroy had made full admissions, saying that she had "acted spontaneously without thinking of the consequences".
The court heard that those who knew McElroy believed that at the time she had "lost the plot".
"Blackmail is a serious offence and one that we are only too familiar with in Northern Ireland," Judge Ramsey said.
He said that McElroy was "deeply ashamed and remorseful, there was the public humiliation on her since she pleaded guilty in court to this charge and has lost her good name".
The judge added that during an interview with the Probation Service for a pre-sentence report, McElroy had described her blackmail action as "her moment of madness".
Although Judge Ramsey said that the custody threshold in the case had been met, he decided not to send McElroy immediately to prison, given her personal circumstances, her remorse and her previous clear record.
"For the offence of blackmail I am going to impose a sentence of 12 months, but I am going to suspend that sentence for a period of two years," he said.
"That means that if you commit a further offence which carries a custodial sentence, this sentence may be put into effect and may be imposed consecutively to any other sentence, but if you stay out of trouble and don't come to any further police attention, then you will hear no more about this matter."
He added that he hoped both sides in the land dispute, which has almost reached a resolution, could soon "put all matters behind them".