Eileen Nestor was awarded €37,000 by the President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice Raymond Groarke, for having her life 'turned upside down' by the anonymous letter-writing campaign of harassment.
Mrs Nestor of Cedar Lodge, Prospect, Gort, Co Galway, sued Nora Connolly and her husband, Oliver, of Rindifin, Gort, Co Galway, for damages arising from the receipt of the letters – she suffered a nervous breakdown and had to give up her job as a result.
Galway Circuit Civil Court heard that Mr and Mrs Nestor were working hard to put their four children through secondary school and later third-level education. Mrs Nestor applied for and secured a job as a porter with AIB in Gort in 2003.
She was a highly regarded employee, but shortly after starting in her new position, she began to receive anonymous letters.
Her husband, Michael, said that he approached the gardai as a result. He had been shocked at what was in the letters.
One questioned whether his wife was a man dressed in women's clothes, another referred to her as 'a low-class worker', while yet another spoke of their children being used for slave-labour.
"I was absolutely disgusted . . . I was shocked . . . it horrified me and disgusted me," Mr Nestor said.
In all, 24 letters were received, most by Mrs Nestor, but a number by her husband and others were received by senior management figures in AIB.
Mr Nestor said his wife was not sleeping and would wake at night asking "who is doing this to me?". It was with great regret that she had to leave her job in 2005 because of the effect of the letters which were arriving every six weeks.
The Connollys lived about a quarter-mile from them in Gort and Mr Nestor recalled that his brother had been bestman at the Connolly wedding and the Connollys in turn had been guests at their wedding.
Mrs Nestor's GP, Dr Richard Joyce, said that the deterioration of her health had coincided with the arrival of the hate mail in 2003. She was depressed, had abdominal pain and suffered palpitations.
The hate mail had a profound effect on her and she had a nervous breakdown. Out of desperation, she had come to see him in November, 2004. She had become distressed when she realised that the source of the hate mail was someone she had a high regard for.
Gardai from Gort station began an investigation into the letters and quickly concluded that they amounted to a campaign of harassment.
They eventually made a breakthrough in 2004 when one of the letters contained a downloaded picture of the Nestor family home.
Gardai were able to identify the website from which it came and eventually tracked the source of the downloading to a computer linked to an Eircom phone line in the name of Oliver Connolly in Gort.
Both Mr and Mrs Connolly were arrested and a computer was seized from their home. Nothing of evidential value was found on the computer, but as gardai searched for a second computer in the attic of the Connolly home, Mrs Connolly, who worked in Bank of Ireland, asked if they had a legal document entitling them to carry out a search.
Sergeant Peter Carr said he had been invited to the Connolly home and they had no objection to his searching the attic, but as he was climbing up to the attic, Mrs Connolly told him she had private stuff there and would prefer if he did not go up.
In evidence, Mrs Nestor said she initially thought the letters were a joke, but soon became very concerned about the content. "I was asking . . . who is doing this terrible thing to me . . . I didn't know who was doing it." She added: "It was somebody who knew us so well. They knew so much about us".
She agreed with her barrister, Alban Carney, that the letters were "scurrilous".
"I knew I couldn't take any more," she said, referring to her decision to give up her job. Her bank manager had been very supportive.
Defence counsel John O'Donnell said he was not going into evidence, but applied for a direction because of what he claimed was a break in the chain of evidence pointing to his clients as the source. The application was rejected by Mr Justice Groarke.
The judge said the letters were clearly written by an adult and the letter with the downloaded picture of the Nestor home had its origin in the Connolly home. "Its conclusions are inescapable," he said.
He was satisfied the other letters also emanated from the Connolly home, but the purpose of the correspondence was far from clear. The effect was to belittle and demean Mrs Nestor and to invade her home in a malicious fashion.
He did not know if it was done because of jealousy or hatred – the court heard the Nestor children were all "high achievers".
Mr Justice Groarke was of the view that he was compelled to make an award at the higher end of the Circuit Court scale.