A woman who told court that her life had been destroyed by a man who harassed her and became obsessed with her has urged other women in similar positions to contact gardaí.

A 52-year-old salesman from west Cork has today been sentenced to seven years in prison, with two suspended, after he was convicted of a charge of attempted burglary with intent to rape a woman with whom he had become obsessed.

James Steele, a 52-year-old married father of two of Reavilleen, Rosscarbery, Co Cork, also pleaded guilty to charges of harassment and criminal damage.

The victim, Una Ring, told the Circuit Criminal Court in Cork that Steele had broken her and she would never forgive him.

She urged other women in similar positions to come forward to gardaí.

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"Being stalked is the most psychologically terrifying situation to be in," she said in her victim impact statement to the court.

"It's like a trap door has been opened up beneath you and you are free-falling, waiting after each incident for the next even worse one to happen and knowing that at some point something horrific will happen."

Ms Ring had met Steele through work. She said there was no relationship there. They were not friends, she barely knew him. However, he became obsessed with her.

When she rejected his letters and texts in which he made advances to her, his harassment progressed to obsession.

In court, Ms Ring explained the impact this had on her.

"I was so certain that James Steele was going to break in and attack me that I used to tidy up the house each night before going to bed so that the house would be presentable for the crime scene photos," she said.

"I even considered getting a tattoo with my name, town name and date of birth so that if he abducted me and killed me that my body would be easily and quickly identified. That's how utterly terrified I was. I still am."

Steele also pleaded guilty to charges of harassment and criminal damage in a campaign that continued for six months, from February to July 2020.

Ms Ring told the court Steele had destroyed her life over the past year and she would never forgive him.

"I can't sleep when it's raining heavily at night. I jump at the message alert on my phone or the noise of a car door," she said.

"When I close my eyes, I can see James Steele walking towards my front door, armed with a crowbar ready to attack, and when I was informed of the weapons he had in his possession on the night of his arrest, it sickened me to the core."

The court was told that, following his arrest, Steele was searched at Midleton Garda Station and items were found strapped to his body, which indicated that he intended to rape Ms Ring.

Steele later admitted that this was his intention.

James Steele captured on CCTV moments before his arrest

Ms Ring urged other women who are in fear, being harassed or who are in other similar positions to come forward to gardaí.

She described waking one morning to find her car tyres painted pink and on another morning her windows and sill were daubed with messages.

Steele sent her letters threatening the rape of her.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin was told that the harassment culminated in a serious incident on 27 July last year, when gardaí, under Inspector Eoin Healy, put a surveillance operation in place and intercepted Steele close to Ms Ring's house.

He was in disguise, with his face covered, and he was armed with a crowbar and duct tape as he attempted to break into her home.

Sergeant John Sharkey of Youghal Garda Station told the court that Steele knew of Ms Ring through work. However, they had no friendship or relationship of any sort.

He said that in February 2020, Steele told her he was changing jobs and asked her to assist him with filing and IT in his new office in Cork.

Sergeant John Sharkey

On 14 February last year, as she attempted to help him with the office move, he made amorous approaches, which she rejected.

From that date until the beginning of April, Steele sent her 20 text messages. Some of the messages contained apologies. He also offered her a job at his new workplace, although he had no authority to hire.

She ignored the majority of his messages, only answering ones that were work-related. He then messaged her saying he was going to call to her home. She became fearful and told him to stop contacting her.

Contact ceased, but Ms Ring remained uneasy and on 12 June she reported the matter to gardaí in Youghal.

On 7 July, she woke to find her car wheels had been painted pink. On 13 July, she discovered graffiti on her front window and window sill.

Nine square panels had been daubed with X and O's and the words "I win" had been painted on her window sill.

The following day she went to her car to find a black envelope on her windscreen. It contained a typed letter with sexual innuendo. It also had two condoms. The letter said it was "time they had some fun", the court was told.

In the letter, Ms Ring was told she was being watched. Ms Ring made a further statement to gardaí and CCTV was installed at her home.

On 23 July, she found another envelope on her car windscreen in which the writer expressed the intent to rape her.

Steele put under garda surveillance

Ms Ring felt physically sick after reading the letter. She viewed the CCTV footage and identified Steele as the person who had dropped off the letter. Gardaí put their surveillance operation in place.

At 3.45am on 27 July, gardaí intercepted Mr Steele as he approached Ms Ring's driveway.

Sgt Sharkey said that Steele was in disguise, wearing a hat, a snood and with blue plastic gloves on his hands. He was arrested.

Gardaí found a crowbar on him, in addition to an orange rope and a roll of duct tape. A search of his van was carried out and a lock-picking set was recovered.

Steele's home was also searched and gardaí found envelopes that matched those sent to the home of Ms Ring. They also found orange rope and spray paint cans.

Steele was interviewed on four occasions. He admitted that he had written the letters to Ms Ring after a bottle of wine.

He said the tone of the letters was "sick" and "disgusting" and told gardaí that his actions would have left Ms Ring "mortified, scared and frightened".

Gardaí also uncovered an internet search by Steele for chloroform.

He accepted responsibility for all of the harassment and said that Ms Ring did not deserve any of his behaviour.

The court was told that Steele was an Australian national who had no convictions in this country. He has a conviction for indecent assault in Australia in 1986, for which he received a small monetary fine.

Defending Senior Counsel Tom Creed said his client had made full admissions and cooperated with gardaí whilst entering a plea of guilty at the earliest opportunity.

He is being seen by the prison psychiatrist since his arrest in July of last year. 

Victim fears being alone

Ms Ring described the impact on her and her two children to the court in her victim impact statement. She said she had been diagnosed with PTSD, has ongoing nightmares and has suffered from depression and anxiety.

"I hate being alone. I even check the car to ensure that no one has broken in and is lying in the back waiting for me," she told the court.

"When I close my eyes I can see James Steele walking towards my front door with a crowbar ready to attack. I dread to think what would have happened if it wasn't for the operation that gardaí had put in place."

Judge Ó Donnabháin described the case as very worrying.

He noted the level of preparedness by Steele and his "deviousness", before jailing him for seven years, with the last two years suspended.

Steele will be supervised in the community for five years after his release from prison. He has been warned not to contact Ms Ring or her family directly or indirectly at any time in the future.

Steele had been charged and pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal damage, a count of harassment, possession of articles with intent to commit a robbery and a count of attempted robbery with an intent to commit rape.

Speaking after the sentencing, Ms Ring thanked gardaí for their support in the "harrowing" situation she found herself in.

She urged other people facing harassment to contact their local garda station. She said that there should be "zero tolerance" for such crimes.

Ms Ring added that her thoughts were with the family of Steele at this difficult time.

Anyone affected by this story can contact these freephone numbers 24/7:
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 1800 77 8888
Women's Aid 1800 341 900