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Vile wedding day campaign merits prison, not fines, judge warns men

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Graffiti referring to Donovan Ross

Graffiti referring to Donovan Ross

Graffiti on the road referring to Donovan Ross

Graffiti on the road referring to Donovan Ross

William Sloan

William Sloan

Joseph McNulty

Joseph McNulty

Graffiti referring to Donovan Ross

Two Co Tyrone men who carried out a malicious campaign of harassment against a neighbour on his daughter's wedding day have had their appeals thrown out.

And the judge hearing the failed appeal against the convictions said previously imposed fines were inadequate, and warned he is considering jailing the pair.

Joseph McNulty (66) and William Sloan (61) both with addresses at Ballygawley Road, Dungannon, denied harassing Donovan Ross on September 3, 2016 - the day of his daughter's wedding.

They placed a huge sign with "obscene" wording in a field, then began a noise campaign using a slurry spreader, bird-scaring barley bangers and a revving chainsaw.

The pair were convicted at Dungannon Magistrates' Court last year and each fined £500.

At that time, District Judge John Meehan remarked: "I am satisfied they gave dishonest evidence. This was a malicious action ... a campaign by smell, noise and obscene signage."

But both men rejected the decision and launched an appeal, which was heard at Omagh County Court before Judge Neil Rafferty QC.

It was suggested by McNulty's defence the case had only been brought after political pressure was applied, following a discussion Mr Ross held with a local representative, who in turn convened a meeting to establish facts. But this was dismissed by the judge as "a red herring" raised by the defence, given that the Public Prosecution Service has the final say in cases.

The victim, who owns a fishery and lives on site, was advised of offensive graffiti on roads and signposts on the morning of his daughter's wedding. He was named in each and referred to in derogatory terms.

A huge board erected on McNulty's land was painted with the victim's name followed by 'Neighbour from hell'.

A friend using the fishery recorded both defendants. In footage played to the court the pair could be seen at the sign.

Barley bangers exploded loudly at regular intervals.

The men left the field but McNulty re-emerged holding a chainsaw, revving loudly but cutting nothing. Sloan meanwhile drove a tractor with a tanker spraying slurry.

After considering their evidence, Judge Rafferty said he "found both defendants incapable of belief".

"McNulty in particular had a twist and turn for every question. He went absolutely out of his way to find explanations and excuses. Sloan's evidence was implausible at best and unbelievable and calculating at worst," he said.

"There is nothing improper about a citizen meeting their elected representative, whatever party they may be. Police have a duty to take concerns on board. In the end it is the PPS who decide on whether or not there is a case."

Addressing the pair, Judge Rafferty said: "This was a concerted effort. It was vile, nasty behaviour.

"I believe the fine at the lower court is inadequate. I am directing pre-sentence reports and I am considering immediate custody. There will also be a Restraining Order to protect the Ross family."

Sentencing will take place next month.

Belfast Telegraph