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Belfast man 'who had obsession with woman' jailed for harassment

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Fernando Murphy at court

Fernando Murphy at court

Fernando Murphy at court

A north Belfast community worker was jailed yesterday after an appeal against a conviction for harassing a woman was rejected.

As Fernando Murphy was handed a 14-month sentence - half in prison, half on licence - he was told by Judge David McFarland: "You seem to have an obsession with this lady and this has to stop. The longer it goes on, the longer the prison sentences you will receive."

Last year, the 42-year-old was convicted in his absence of 10 charges reflecting a course of conduct between December 2017 and August 2018.

The offences included multiple charges of harassment, breaching a restraining order and sending menacing messages by a public electronic communications network.

After being found guilty of the charges at Belfast Magistrates Court, Murphy was subsequently handed a 14-month sentence, which he appealed. The appeal was opened in the County Court earlier this week, when both the complainant and Murphy gave evidence. It concluded yesterday with a 14-month sentence imposed.

Judge McFarland was shown Twitter messages written both to and about the complainant, a WhatsApp message, and CCTV footage which showed a confrontation between the two in the centre of Belfast on August 29, 2018.

Crown barrister Lauren Cheshire said the Twitter messages were sent from fake accounts created by Murphy, and that links to these accounts were located on a laptop seized from Murphy's Balholm Drive home.

When he was called to give evidence earlier this week, Murphy accepted he had set the laptop up but said that up to 50 people had access to it.

He also denied creating fake Twitter accounts and tweeting about the complainant. From the witness box, he rejected suggestions he was behind the tweets, and said that on at least two occasions it couldn't have been him as he was at his sister's caravan in Bundoran, where there was no Wifi.

Upholding these convictions, Judge McFarland said that while he accepted others had access to the laptop "in my view he (Murphy) was the main user of the laptop and controlled the usage".

The judge continued: "It is clear from the evidence that the various messages sent by various Twitter names are all associated with that laptop."

Regarding Murphy's claim that he couldn't have sent certain messages as he was in Bundoran and without Wifi, the judge said that whilst there may not have been Wifi at the caravan site there would have been "sufficient Wifi in Bundoran for a laptop".

Judge McFarland upheld the convictions of nine charges, but acquitted Murphy on a charge of harassment between January 10 and January 17, 2018.

One of the charges which was upheld by the Belfast Recorder concerned a confrontation in the centre of Belfast in August 2018.

The Crown made the case that after an initial meeting, Murphy then "followed and circled round" the woman, which terrified her and which was in breach of a non-molestation order.

Murphy claimed the complainant had approached him, and that he then tried to avoid further contact.

Judge McFarland said that after watching the CCTV footage and listening to the complainant's version of events, he viewed Murphy's claims as "largely irrational and unbelievable".

Defence barrister Turlough Madden said "quite clearly there are underlying mental health difficulties with Mr Murphy".

The judge said Murphy had shown "no remorse" for matters he branded as "serious" and when he had been given a suspended sentence in the past, a "very short time after that, he re-offended".

Belfast Telegraph