A ‘Peeping Tom’ taxi driver, who behaved like “an absolute pervert” has been sentenced to eight months in prison for persistently harassing his next-door neighbours and their two young daughters.
The family had contemplated selling their home on a number of occasions, such was the level of harassment coming over their garden wall on a daily basis, Galway District Court heard last week.
59-year-old James Gannon, from Hawthorn Place, Clybaun Road, Knocknacarra, had been heard on numerous occasions making ‘masturbating noises’ in his back garden to harass the family.
He was also caught on camera leaning in over his neighbour’s garden wall – sometimes on a ladder – to spy on them if they were in their garden or to peer in through the windows of their home, and even into their daughters’ upstairs bedroom windows.
He regularly pulled faces at them and more recently began spitting food from his mouth as he leered at them.
He persistently hit a football or a golf ball against their garden wall with a golf club, making as much noise as possible if the family were in their garden and regularly played the radio so loud that a next-door neighbour could hear the commentary even though all of the windows in her home were shut.
He also made loud banging noises inside his home late at night, regularly waking the terrified children next-door.
At a lengthy contested hearing before Judge Mary Fahy this week, Gannon denied a single charge that on a date unknown, between June 1, 2019 and April 20, 2020, at Hawthorn Place, he harassed Edwina Sandys Clarke, contrary to Section 10(1) and (6) of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.
Mrs Sandys Clarke gave evidence she and her two young daughters, then aged 11 and 13, moved into Hawthorn Place in 2017, while her husband Andrew worked in London and came home once a week.
“From day one, James Gannon would lean in over the garden wall and look up and down our garden and into our house.
“The children caught him looking into their bedrooms and if we were in the dining room or the kitchen, he would lean over the wall and stare in at us.
“This was happening at any time of the day, persistently, non-stop, ten to twenty times a day.
“He used the ledge he built (in a raised flowerbed) to watch my 14-year-old daughter changing her clothes in her bedroom. She was in her bra. This happened more than once – when she found him staring in at her. She’s 17 now and more than happy to give evidence here today,” she said.
She asked Gannon on numerous occasions to stop leaning over the wall and staring into the house at her and her daughters, but things just got worse. They were all scared of him, particularly as her husband was away a lot, she said.
Mrs Sandys Clarke wrote to Gannon in 2018, asking him to stop the harassment and she even brought his now ex-wife, Teresa Gannon, into her home and pleaded with her to get him to stop. They had sought mediation through the Gardaí, but nothing worked and the harassment continued.
Several phone video clips taken by the family from their daughters’ upstairs bedroom windows were shown to the court.
One clip captured Gannon peering in through a hole in the garden wall while Mrs Sandys Clarke sunbathed on a sunlounger. Her husband noticed Gannon peeping into the garden on that occasion.
Another clip caught Gannon watching the girls’ bedroom windows from his garden.
She said Gannon built concrete steps on top of a raised flowerbed near the garden wall and was regularly captured on camera standing on it to peer into their garden and home.
She said they often heard Gannon making masturbating sounds and belching sounds in his garden and he constantly hit things loudly against the fence.
She said she had also caught him on two occasions watching her at her workplace.
She said she and her husband told Gannon in 2019 they wanted to raise the boundary wall between their gardens and were glad when he agreed to this.
A builder came and put up two rows of blocks along the top of the existing wall. The builder told the court Gannon came out to him and chatted to him while he raised the wall. He went into Gannon’s garden and cleaned up any mess made by the building work and also reinstated a nail in the wall so Gannon could re-hang his clothesline.
He heard the next day that Gannon had taken the wall down. He returned and erected a fence for the Clarke’s on their side of the wall.
The court heard shortly after the builder left, Gannon and his son knocked the blocks over into the Clarke’s garden. He told her the raised wall was blocking his view.
Defence solicitor, John Martin, objected to video clips being shown to the court which were recorded before and after the time period relating to the charge before the court.
He said his client would say the witness’s allegations of harassment only started when the top portion of the wall came down.
She denied this, telling the court she had shouted at Gannon on one occasion to stop staring at her and her daughters, telling him he was “acting like a pervert”.
She said the harassment started every morning when Gannon’s son, Adrian left for work.
“His wife left him around the time the wall went up,” she added.
She said she and her husband had spent €4,000 to try and get some privacy. They had to build a wall and then a fence and put blinds on all the windows.
“We have contemplated selling our home on a number of occasions,” she said pensively.
Andrew Clarke said the harassment had been going on for well over three years. He said his wife had kept a lot of what had been going from him as he was working in London and she didn’t want to worry him.
“It’s just continual harassment, day after day, every day, back and front (of the house). My wife and kids can’t go into the garden and it’s got to the stage where I can’t go into the garden. He’s continually leaning out the window making faces, front and back. He became more confident and cocky and started doing it at the fence,” Mr Clarke said.
He gave up his job and moved home when he became aware his wife and girls were scared to be in the house on their own.
He said he and Gannon had got on fine initially and when he told Gannon he wanted to raise the wall, they had discussed it several times.
He said he was in London when he heard Gannon had knocked the wall and he got the first flight home the next morning.
During cross-examination by Mr Martin, Mr Clarke agreed he had been in the Clybaun Hotel on one occasion with friends when he noticed Gannon who started making faces at him.
“He just makes these faces and I just swore at him at the time and I left. Anytime I was in the Clybaun Hotel, he would appear,” Mr Clarke added.
Daughter caught Gannon watching
The Clarke’s 17-year-old daughter gave evidence that she had caught Gannon watching her getting changed through her bedroom window.
“I’ve caught him watching me and I’ve seen him hit golf balls against the garden wall if we are in the garden. He makes noises and he watches us any place he can,” she said.
In reply to Mr Martin who asked her during cross-examination if his client had looked in her window, the Transition Year student said: “It happened on multiple occasions.”
Judge Fahy asked the girl if she got blinds for her window after that.
“Yes, and I don’t open the blinds anymore,” she replied.
Judge Fahy said it was bad enough for a 17-year-old to be called to give evidence before refusing to hear evidence from the younger child.
Neighbour Marian Ward told the court the Clarkes and Gannons lived on the other side of her home.
She described what she saw and heard during that time as ‘astonishing’. She recalled hearing loud screeching noises, like metal grating on rock, that would emanate from Gannon’s garden for hours on end. He would also play the radio “astonishingly loudly”, so loud that she could hear the commentary even with all her windows closed.
Ms Ward had a bird’s eye view of 60% of Gannon’s back garden from her upstairs office window.
“I could see James almost playing hide and seek in his garden with the Clarkes. It happened all the time.
“I used to find it invasive, just watching it,” she said.
She recalled seeing him one day as he repeatedly hit a golf ball and then a football against the garden wall with a golf club, while the Clarke’s were in their garden. The noise was very irritating and would have disturbed a lot of other people, apart from the Clarkes, she said.
Ms Ward said that on more than ten occasions she heard Gannon make masturbating noises in his garden too. Mr Martin objected to this, saying she was drawing assumptions.
Ms Ward denied this. “This noise was significant. It made me sick to my core. It was abhorrent,” she replied.
She said she often saw him from her office upstairs peering into the Clarke’s garden or peering in through their windows.
Garda Ronan McNulty gave evidence he took a statement from Mrs Sandys Clarke on September 12, 2019, and afterwards cautioned Gannon about his behaviour, and he seemed to take it ‘on board’, he said.
He took further statements from Mrs Clarke in January 2020 and again in April 2020 and had initially issued an ASBO (Anti-social Behaviour Order) to Gannon on February 20, 2020, outlining to him not to stare at the Clarkes, and not make any noises. He said Gannon told him he understood the order.
Garda McNulty said Gannon’s behaviour quietened for a number of weeks but he took another statement from Mrs Sandys Clarke on April 20, 2020, when Gannon’s behaviour had deteriorated again.
Gannon was arrested on May 21 last year and charged with harassment.
James Gannon gave evidence he lived in his house since 1993 and there had been neighbours next-door to him up to 2005 with whom he had built a garden wall. After that the house was rented until the Clarke’s arrived in 2017.
He said he got on with them very well initially. They would talk over the garden wall and he had been invited into their home on occasion.
He said he thought they were going to put up a trellis fence and he agreed to that, but he never agreed to the blocked wall being raised, which he claimed was done in his absence.
He said he regularly went home to Mayo to farm for his elderly parents and on the day the wall was built, he had been gone for the day farming.
Complaint over wall
He said his wife complained to him about the clothesline when he came home that evening.
“My wife works in the City Council,” Gannon said before Mr Martin interrupted him to say they were now separated.
“Yes, but she comes there two to three times a week,” Gannon replied.
He said he spoke to Edwina and asked her to get Andy on the phone so he could speak to him after the wall went up.
“I told them Teresa was cross over the wall. I said I would take the wall down carefully so the block layer could use them again.
“The following evening, Andy came home. He called me and Teresa out and all hell broke loose. He said I was a dead man, that I was going to be killed and I would pay for the wall,” Gannon said.
“I went to City Council the next week to see what could be done. Everything with the Clarkes changed after that,” he said.
Judge Fahy put it Gannon there was very clear CCTV evidence before the court of him “peeping – like a Peeping Tom, for want of a better word . . . peeping into this person’s garden”, she said and she asked if he could tell her anything about that.
Gannon replied the fence had been two metres high and they raised it to 2.4 metres.
Judge Fahy told him he was not answering the question and she put it to him again that the CCTV clearly showed him looking into the Clarke’s garden.
Gannon said he might have looked in once or twice. “There was a gap in that fence. Anyone could see in,” he replied.
He accused the Clarke’s of putting two peep holes in the fence and looking in at him.
Judge Fahy put to the defendant again that the CCTV showed him going up on a height looking into somebody else’s property. She asked him why he was captured deliberately and consistently looking into the garden on the CCTV.
“I don’t know when it started, but I think it was some time in 2019,” Gannon replied.
“So, you are admitting that you did that,” Judge Fahy put to him.
He replied he probably did because he could see over the fence from the upper level.
Inspector John Maloney, prosecuting put it to Gannon that during Garda questioning following his arrest he admitted looking into the Clarke’s garden.
Some of his answers were: “I didn’t know I couldn’t look into their garden”; “I didn’t know I couldn’t peep through the fence”; “if there is a gap in the fence I will look through it”.
Another answer he gave was: “If I’m putting something in my bin, I will look over the fence.”
“Especially if a woman is sunbathing, I think you would have something to put in the bin that day,” Judge Fahy replied.
Teresa Gannon gave evidence she had since separated from her husband but was there on the day the wall went up.
She said their relationship with the Clarke’s had been good up to that day. There had been no agreement to raise the wall, she said, and it had been done when her husband was in Mayo.
Her husband came home and he and their son removed the two rows of blocks. Andy Clarke threatened to kill her husband when he came home the following evening and said he would be sorry for taking down the wall, she said.
Insp Maloney put to her that the builder had told the court he had spoken to her and her husband before he started raising the wall.
Mrs Gannon denied her husband was there that day.
“Do you have any idea why they wanted the wall raised?,” Judge Fahy asked her.
“Perhaps they wanted more privacy,” witness replied.
“I wonder why they wanted that?” Judge Fahy asked rhetorically before asking witness if she had seen any of the CCTV.
Mrs Gannon replied she had not seen it.
“Everything was done in my view by the complainant to try and avoid serious criminal charges,” the judge noted. She said she had spoken to Gannon on several occasions. He was brought into court last year, he got bail with conditions and she spoke to him about those conditions.
“But he doesn’t listen to anybody. It’s all his way or the highway,” the judge said.
She reminded Mr Martin his client was brought before the court again this year for an alleged breach of his bail conditions and again he wouldn’t listen but at the time she decided to leave it until the hearing now before the court.
Judge Fahy then said she was convicting Gannon of a very serious charge.
Mr Martin said it was his view this was a neighbour’s dispute that got out of hand.
Judge Fahy disagreed. She said he had made a young girl come to court to give evidence as well as a younger girl, who didn’t give evidence.
“His actions and his wife only gave evidence from a self-serving point of view. She only saw and heard what she wanted to see and hear.
“She pretended she didn’t know a thing about what was going on. I find that very hard to believe. I know she is not a defendant, he is,” Judge Fahy said.
She said that if she asked the witness, she would say this was still continuing.
“All the time,” Mrs Sandys Clarke replied from the back of the courtroom.
Judge Fahy said she was shocked at the behaviour captured on the CCTV.
“Everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their own property and, particularly, young children have to be protected.
“He has been carrying on like an absolute pervert and there’s no other way of putting it.
“Giving him a suspended sentence would be wasting my time. There is only one way to get through to him and that is a custodial sentence because the Garda tried, I tried and when I asked him a simple question in the witness box, he went talking about trees and farming in Mayo, Judge Fahy said.
“He got away with it long enough. They tried to organise some type of peace-keeping situation. The only victim impact statement I need to know is from the victim and she says it’s continuing. The fact he kept it up for so long. There were three females in the house and the man had to come back from England post haste.
“I would be entitled to impose 12 months but as he has no previous convictions, I will leave it at eight months. I do not do that lightly but if I suspend it, I know he will not listen. Most people will listen but not him,” Judge Fahy said. Judge Fahy granted him leave to appeal the sentence, on his own surety of €800 and one independent surety of €600 with half of each to be lodged in court.
Insp Moloney asked the judge to make an order under Section 10 (3) of the Act, for whatever period of time she saw fit, directing Gannon to stay away and not to beset the complainants.
Mr Martin said setting a time limit would be difficult as his client lived at that address and after his sentence was completed would have to reside there again.
Judge Fahy directed Gannon not to beset or communicate in any manner with the Clarke family.
Emergency accommodation for rough sleepers in Galway during Storm Barra
Arrangements have been made to provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers ahead of Storm Barra hitting Galway in the morning.
Accommodation will be provided at locations including The Glenoaks in the Westside, the Fairgreen in the city centre and Osterley Lodge in Salthill (Contact 085 8009709 or 085 8009641).
The COPE Galway Day Centre will remain open all day Tuesday from 8.30am to closing.
Meanwhile, Galway City Council has warned that a number of roads may be closed in the morning ahead of high tide, including Salthill Prom.
Following ongoing meetings of the Inter-Agency Co-ordination group today and based on the latest information available, a number of precautionary measures have been put in place.
- Closure of Silverstrand Beach at 6pm Monday
- Closure of Ballyloughane Beach at midnight (Local Traffic only)
- Closure of Rosshill Road at 6am Tuesday
- Closure of Salthill Promenade at midnight:
- Blackrock Tower to Seapoint and onto Grattan Road. (Closure of Grattan Road may be required. Monitoring in place to decide.)
- Potential closure of roads along the Claddagh, Docks and Spanish Arch from 5am Tuesday
A spokesperson said: “There may be further closures throughout the city as required and the situation will be closely monitored and regular updates given. Motorists will experience delays as a result.”
The carparks at Toft Park and on the Promenade have been closed and all vehicle owners have been asked to move their vehicles from car parks and along the Prom.
Sand bags are now available at the following manned locations: the former Tourist Kiosk in Salthill (behind Seapoint); Claddagh Hall; Galway Fire Station; Spanish Arch; the Docks (beside the pedestrian crossing at St Nicholas Street).
“Anyone who avails of sandbags should retain them in their possession for use throughout the upcoming winter season. Please do not take any more sandbags than you need,” the Council spokesperson said.
“The main impacts will include strong winds, falling trees and potential flooding. High tide in Galway Bay will be at 6.45am Tuesday.
“Some trees may be compromised due to saturated soils at the moment, and with more rain forecast with Storm Barra some disruption due to falling trees/branches is likely. Heavy rain, coupled with falling leaves may block drains and gullies, leading to surface flooding. Galway City Council staff have been carrying out drainage maintenance across the city in advance of the storm to minimise potential flooding risks.
“Storm Barra will produce significant swell, high waves and sizeable storm surges. This will lead to wave overtopping, some coastal flooding and damage, especially along western and southern coasts,” the Council said.
Business owners and homeowners are advised to check their own drains and secure any loose objects within their property in advance of the warning taking effect.
“Galway City Council advises remaining indoors during the period of the warning and, as always, to avoid coastal areas. Parks and other wooded areas should also be avoided, due to the danger of falling trees. If absolutely essential to travel, please exercise extreme caution out and about especially on coastal roads and exposed shores.
“City Council staff will be on standby for clean-up following the passing of Storm Barra and the associated warning once it has been deemed safe to do so. Please note the associated clean-up which will commence on Wednesday morning may impact on traffic.”
Galway City Council Customer Services phone lines are available to deal with emergency calls on 091 536400. For the Galway County Council area, the phone number is 091 509069.
School reports better atmosphere and reduced stress due to pilot project
Daily car use at Scoil Iognáid has reduced by 14% in the past year since Galway City Council introduced a School Streets pilot project to the area.
More children are walking (+11%), scooting (+3%) and cycling (+7%) on a daily basis, according to a report published by Galway City Council.
Staff reported that children were arriving to school more ready to learn, with an improved atmosphere and reduced stress at the school gate. Parents and the wider community reported a better walking and cycling environment, improved access and community spirit.
A ‘School Street’ is a road outside a school with a temporary restriction on motorised traffic at school drop-off and pick-up times – creating a safer, calmer space for children, parents and residents to walk, scoot or cycle. The pilot project in Scoil Iognáid was formally launched in November, 2020, with hundreds of families joining to create the first city-centre School Streets project in Ireland.
As part of the pilot project, Palmyra Row, Palmyra Avenue and Raleigh Row were pedestrianised from November 30 during the school pick-up and drop-off times during the school term. Residents retain access to their homes during these times, as do cyclists or ‘blue badge’ holders, accessing the school.
The project is funded by the National Transport Authority and delivered with the support of the Green-Schools Travel programme, An Garda Siochána, and the wider school community.
Galway West TD and Minister of State in the Department of Transport, Hildegarde Naughton TD described the City Council report as “incredibly encouraging”.
She said the findings would provide information on how to boost increased levels of children taking a healthier and greener mode of transport to and from school.
“Crucially, the report and findings published by Galway City Council acts as a step-by-step blueprint for local authorities nationwide to replicate these results in their own counties,” Deputy Naughton stated.
“Earlier this year I launched a new programme, Safe Routes to School, which is investing in safe walking, cycling and scooting infrastructure on the lead-up to and entrances of our schools. The programme aims to deliver and is delivering, results just like those we can see from this School Streets pilot.”
Director of Services at Galway City Council Patrick Greene said there was reason to celebrate as the School Streets pilot turned one.
“The National Transport Authority identifies the front of school as the place where children congregate in the greatest numbers and where they are most vulnerable to indiscriminate parking practices, hazardous crossing conditions and air quality issues from idling cars.
“The School Streets pilot at Scoil Iognáid has created a space where children as young as four and five are scooting and cycling with their older classmates, as they arrive into school. “Galway City Council is now looking to progress ‘Safe Routes to School’ and ‘School Zones’ at more schools in the city – these designs will create a safer front-of-school environment for children and if any opportunities arise to deliver School Streets or ‘traffic-free’ streets. Galway City Council welcomes the opportunity to explore this with the school community,” he added.
The full report from the public consultation on April/ May 2021, and further information on the School Streets project can be found at www.galwaycity.ie/schoolstreets.
Tommy confident that relic from 1914 shipwreck is in sight
BY LORNA SIGGINS email@example.com
When Claddagh native Tommy Holohan was growing up on Galway Bay, he remembered how neighbours used to have contests to swim out to the wreck of a ship off Mutton island.
Now he believes he may have located the anchor of the same ship, named Nordlyset, in the sands off Nimmo’s pier.
“We’re not sure, but the anchor chain is here and close to part of the keel, so there’s every reason to think the actual anchor is a couple of foot below, “Holohan says.
“If it can be located, and then raised, it should be exhibited as a key part of Galway’s maritime history,” he feels.
The Nordlyset, or Northern lights, was a three-masted 1,600-ton steel sailing barque which was built in Greenock, Scotland, in 1891.
It was carrying a cargo of timber deal from Rimouski, Canada, into Galway when it hit rocks off Mutton island in November 1914.
No members of the crew perished, but much of its cargo was either washed ashore or was salvaged, Holohan says.
“They got her off the rocks and towed her in, and the hull was sitting upright and we could see it for several years” he explains.
“The Claddagh men had contests to swim out to her,” he recalls.
“Then Hammond Lane Metal Company was sent to take what was of value from it and stripped it down,” Holohan says.
“It was a beautiful ship, and a ship that sailed the oceans. It was fitted with the most modern technology they had at the time.
“Galway had been setting its sights on becoming a major transatlantic port and, of course it was one of several ships to run aground in the Bay – but perhaps one of the better-remembered by people who are still alive,” Holohan says.
“All that was left after Hammond Lane finished was the keel, and we think the anchor has to be here. “I think if the proper buoys were used, it might help to lift the keel and that would point to the anchor,” he believes.
The wreck was also close to South Park, known as the ‘Swamp;, which was the Galway dump until the late 1950s, he points out.
“When we were growing up on the Claddagh, we had no toys, so we would be back looking for toys in the dump, or food. When my mother was young, she and her sisters were sent down to the dump for cinders for the fire,” he says.
Holohan is a grandson of Nan Toole, who was known for her medicinal cures in the Claddagh. She delivered him as a home birth in 1951 and died a year later in 1952.
A keen athlete, Holohan holds the world record for the number of times an Irish person has run the New York marathon consecutively, and has also run marathons in Dublin, Boston, Edinburgh and the Mojave desert.
He is a founder member of the Anti-Austerity Alliance and stood for the alliance in the local elections in 2014, and in the 2016 general election. Apart from politics and running, he also maintains a keen interest in local history.