A woman whose uncle was jailed after putting her through a five-year campaign of mental torture says she has found a reason to cherish her life again after having her first child.
Michelle Doherty was left devastated and on the verge of suicide when an apparent stranger subjected her to a campaign of vile text messages between 2011 and 2016.
However, she was left even more stunned and broken when she discovered the man behind the campaign was her own uncle and godfather.
Martin Hughes, aged 68, from Quigley’s Point on the Inishowen Peninsula, was sentenced to a year in prison last November when he pleaded guilty at Letterkenny Circuit Court in Donegal to sending the texts.
The content of the texts was so disturbing that Judge John Aylmer said he only wanted a flavour of the messages to be read out in court.
Ms Doherty wept on videolink from her home in Spain where she has lived away from her abuse as her ordeal was relived in court.
But today as she begins her new life with partner Chris and newborn baby Sidní, brave Michelle told Donegal Daily: “She has given me a reason to get up every day, get on with my life and leave everything that has happened behind me.”
Judge Aylmer said this was one of the worst cases of harassment he has ever had to deal with saying the texts had a “devastating effect” on Ms Doherty’s life.
He also condemned Hughes for showing no signs of remorse and suggesting that he was justified in some way for carrying out the hate-filled campaign.
The court was told of an extensive investigation by Gardai to find the identity of the owner of the Northern Ireland unregistered phone used to send the texts.
After an exhausting investigation, Gardai finally tracked down Hughes who was hiding his phone in a cardboard box in his garage in his Donegal home.
The court heard how Ms Doherty’s life fell apart when she began to receive the anonymous text messages including some which even threatened to have her throat slit.
She moved to Spain and changed her phone number but was left devastated when she began to receive vile text messages there.
Detective Garda Martin Egan told the court that Ms Doherty contacted Gardai and a full investigation was launched.
Working with the European Police organisation Interpol, Gardai finally tracked the phone to Hughes.
Wealthy Hughes had worked in Scotland where he operated a successful construction company and had returned home to buy and pub and other business interests.
On September 29th, 2016 Gardai arrived at his house with a search warrant and Hughes took them to a corner of his garage where he had the phone used for sending the text messages in a cardboard box.
Ms Doherty said on occasions she physically vomited when she read the texts and was paranoid as to who was sending them.
She added “I was feeling sick and frightened and not knowing what to do. Will the Gardai believe me that I am not that person? My dignity was in shreds. I didn’t have any enemies or ex-partners who would do this.
“I would vomit when I would read some of them. I pleaded with them to tell me what I had done but the responses were getting worse and they were clearly enjoying my stress.”
She became so paranoid and frightened that she lost the use of her limbs and had to get her mother to drive her to work as a carer at Carndonagh Community Hospital.
However, the texts persisted and she decided to move to Spain for a fresh start but knew nobody.
The texts continued and she said she was gradually losing her mind.
She moved back to Ireland where she said that at least she could be cared for by her family if anything did happen to her.
The texts continued and she decided to move to New York to try and start again but after just a few weeks she broke her neck in a horrific accident.
A few days later she received a text from the same phone which read “You filthy, dirty rotten *****, heard you broke your neck, pity you didn’t come back in a body bag.”
Barrister for Hughes, Mr Peter Nolan said his client accepted that the texts were despicable.
However, he said it was Ms Doherty who sent the first text message to Hughes back in 2008 expressing glee at the break-up of his marriage.
He also said that Ms Doherty owed his client money after she rented a property from him but didn’t pay him rent.
However, this was rejected by Judge Kelly who sentenced Hughes to one year in jail.
Michelle’s devoted parents, Michael and Marion, were in court for the sentencing as Marion’s own brother was jailed for the harassment of her daughter.
“It’s difficult because it’s family and he’s flesh and blood. He didn’t need to do what he had to do because we had a good family.
“I can never forgive him. Because of the fact that he lives close to us, he lives just three houses part from us.
“But this (sentence) gives us closure. I take no joy out of it. We were not here to see him going to jail but we were here to see Michelle getting justice,” said Mrs Doherty at court.
Unbeknown to anyone apart from her close family, Michelle was heavily pregnant when she bravely appeared by videolink from her new home on the Costa Del Sol to give her victim impact statement.
On January 27th last, herself and partner Chris welcomed baby Sidní into their lives.
Michelle said she believes it was all the anxiety of recent years which prevented her from conceiving.
She said “She has been my absolute saviour.
“I believe she was given to me to get me through the past year. I knew I was blessed and I couldn’t give up now or ever.
“I had a little miracle coming into my life who needed me to love and protect her for her new life. Myself and my partner Chris whom I met here four years ago are very lucky to have her in our lives. Sidní is so loved an so special in our new chapter.
“She keeps us busy 24/7 and I welcome all those sleepless nights, they are very different than the sleepless nights the anxiety gave me.
“She has my full attention as all other parents understand. My life has done a u-turn. I’m so in love with this tiny little human I get to call my daughter.
“I never thought especially now at 43 that I’d ever get to be a mum or find true happiness and a purpose to get up every day like I do now.
“Sometimes you can have all the family and friends in the world and still feel alone but that’s changed now. I have my very own little world lying next to me.
“I can’t wait until I can bring Sidní to Donegal and to the UK to meet all her eager family who are just longing to hold her in their arms.
“My parents Mickey and Marion have been to hell and back having to sit back and watch my life seep into dark holes for years and they so deserve to have this peace and celebration of my new life and the new life I’ve brought into the family. We’re all very close so I’m just dying to get home.”
Michelle, who is now a carer for older people in Spain, said her entire body and mind eased knowing she was finally getting justice and people knew what she went through.
She said “When Martin Hughes got sentenced and the court link ended I was left feeling numb and shaking. I turned off my computer and sat there alone trying to absorb it all. I called the detective handling my case, Martin Egan, to have him confirm to me the outcome as I was in shock.
“I was happy, sad crying and all the emotions you can think of that comes with getting justice.
“It was a very long time waiting but never once did it cross my mind that he would get a prison sentence because Gardai frequently warned me that he probably wouldn’t get the deserving sentence I’d hoped for.
Martin Egan took over my case halfway through it and he done everything in his power to solve it and to support me to which I am eternally grateful to him for.
Obviously, I’m delighted he got a prison sentence for the premeditated and vicious crimes he committed again me – his niece, his god-daughter.
After several pleas, chances and opportunities to stop he chose to continue abusing me for over five years and showed zero remorse as even the Judge highlighted. So even though it’s sad that my family member is behind bars, I don’t feel bad, he deserved it and more.
“He has taken years from my life but in time I hope this ordeal fades I’ve all I need now to help that.
“I left Donegal against my wishes but I felt like I needed to go away (at the peak of the abuse) in order to survive mentally. Sadly it does follow you but it’s less intense most of the time.”
Michelle said she is looking forward to eventually coming home and has no fears or meeting her tormentor if she passes him on the road.
“I will always return twice a year to Donegal for that much-needed medicine of family and friends that I miss and even more so now because I won’t fear having to see Martin Hughes sneer at me on the roads.
“I’m in a happy place now and I can’t fester any more on the past or the years I have lost.
“My best life is here and now only get better. I got justice, I got to tell the people my story finally and let them know what went on and how much people suffer behind closed doors.
“I hope and pray that I am helping somebody to get their confidence to speak up and fight and to see that they are worth fighting for. It’s not easy but a life saved is worth it.”