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'Vindictive' former Northern Ireland soldier who harassed ex-partner for three years is sent to prison

By Staff Reporter

A judge has described the actions of a man who carried out a campaign of online harassment of his ex-partner and mother of his toddler daughter as "foolish, wicked and vindictive".

His Honour Judge Neil Rafferty QC made the comments at the sentencing of Rory McLaughlin yesterday.

The 31-year-old, of Cooneen Road, Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, was convicted of harassing his ex-partner for over three years between August 2012 and December 2015 by various means, including setting up a fake Facebook account with sexually explicit photographs of another woman.

The victim had already been through the process of cross-examination at Enniskillen Magistrates Court earlier this year when McLaughlin was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

He refused to accept the finding and launched an appeal, but this was rejected and he found himself remanded in custody while pre-sentence reports were prepared.

McLaughlin, who served as a soldier in Afghanistan until he was discharged following an accident, was brought back to Dungannon Crown Court where his defence said he now accepted the finding.

At the previous hearing the victim, who lives in England, returned to go through a rerun of the hearing in which she stated McLaughlin had blackmailed and harassed her by threatening to disclose a previous part of her life that she referred to as "a dark secret". It was something she regretted and did not want anyone knowing about it.

McLaughlin accessed the victim's computer and found material which he copied and posted on a Facebook page he created specifically to upset the victim.

He admitted being aggrieved at not being able to see his daughter as often as he wanted, as she lives with her mother in England.

During the appeal hearing Judge Rafferty was heavily critical of the defence barrister's cross-examination of the victim, who after a particularly brutal round of questioning, broke down completely in the witness box, sobbing: "I can't do this any more."

Under prosecution cross-examination, McLaughlin said the relationship ended shortly after their child was born.

He admitted knowing the victim did not want the secret discussed with anyone, but confirmed disclosing information to the victim's mother, which caused a great deal of upset.

In relation to the Facebook page, which contained explicit photographs of a woman and posts, McLaughlin said: "Look, I hold my hands up. I've told the truth all the way through. I set the page up. I shouldn't have done it. I was in a bad place."

But McLaughlin denied holding the issue of the victim's "dark secret" over her head and then using it to threaten her. He repeatedly denied harassment.

With the case concluded, Judge Rafferty immediately ruled the conviction was upheld.

At sentencing yesterday, the defence handed in a letter from the secretary of McLaughlin's Royal British Legion branch, stating he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The court heard McLaughlin was now in a new relationship and his partner was in the early stages of pregnancy.

Pressing the judge to suspend any further sentence, the defence said: "If a deterrent was sought, my client has now got the message. He is very remorseful."

Addressing McLaughlin directly, Judge Rafferty said: "You did that whenever you could not get access to the child through threat or bullying. You chose to embarrass and humiliate her.

"Be in absolutely no doubt, you hurt your ex-partner and you have hurt your chances of having a role in your child's life. Your actions were foolish, wicked and vindictive and you have to take responsibility."

Handing down a sentence of three months in prison, Judge Rafferty commented: "That is to make it clear to anyone if they seek revenge on the internet in the most humiliating manner, they can expect to go to jail."

McLaughlin was also bound by a two year restraining order, which bans him from threatening, harassing or contacting the victim.

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