Art student jailed for harassing innocent family over drug debt has jail term reduced

A future art student who was sentenced to four years in prison for harassing an innocent husband and wife over an €8,500 drug debt owed by their son has had his prison sentence reduced on appeal.

Karl Hughes, who received an offer of a place to study at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), had threatened to kill the couple’s son unless the money was paid.

CCTV cameras at the front of the victims’ home recorded Hughes repeatedly knocking on the door and shouting at the couple: “I told you I wanted my money.”

In another incident, he was clearly seen kicking the family’s door and shouting threats at the house.

The couple felt so intimidated by Hughes’ actions, which only stopped after complaining to Gardai, that they put the house they had lived in for more than 20 years on the market.

Hughes (28), formerly of Castleknock Meadows, Laurel Lodge, Dublin, but now a prisoner of Wheatfield Prison, pleaded guilty in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to harassment of the Kennedy family at their home in Rathfarnham, Dublin between April and September 2019.

He was sentenced to four years in prison by Judge Martin Nolan last May.

Hughes then appealed against the severity of the sentence.

In a judgment delivered by the President of the Court, Judge George Birmingham, on January 24, sitting with Judge John Edwards and Judge Una Ní Raifeartaigh, Hughes’ behavior was described as a “serious offence”.

The family targeted by the harassment, Judge Birmingham continued, were “totally blameless individuals who had been made vulnerable by the conduct of their son”.

However, the judge said the court decided to suspend the final year of the four-year sentence imposed on Hughes to encourage his rehabilitation.

At an earlier hearing (January 21), details of an offer Hughes had received from NCAD were given to the Court of Appeal by defense attorney John Fitzgerald SC as he told the court at three judges that the prison sentence imposed on his client had been excessive. .

The lawyer explained that his client had been diagnosed with depression and was not taking his medication at the time of the offence, and had also abused alcohol.

Hughes, however, was now following medical advice regarding his treatment and there was also a job offer as well as a place at NCAD waiting for him, he added.

Mr Fitzgerald said Hughes “had mental difficulties, which he had been suffering from for some time”, and that the sentence given by Judge Nolan had been a mistake compared to lighter sentences handed down in the past for similar offences.

Mr Fitzgerald also told the court that his client had since turned over a new leaf and had not come to the attention of authorities since his arrest.

“There has been a change in his behavior,” added the lawyer.

Kieran Kelly BL, for Director of Public Prosecutions, said CCTV footage that was shown in court gave “a taste of some of the visits” Hughes made to the property.

The visits, he said, were “planned, extended and effective” in their intention “to induce maximum fear in the household”.

Mr Kelly said the harassment only ended when the family complained to Gardai and argued that the sentencing judge had correctly described the offense as “very serious misconduct and the higher end of the scale that could not be tolerated”.

During the hearing of submissions, Judge Birmingham noted that the victims were so terrified of Hughes’ actions that they felt compelled to put their 24-year-old home on the market.

“It’s a different order of severity,” he said.

Earlier evidence.

Hughes’ brother, Cian (31), was convicted of the same offense and sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

At Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Garda Peter Finnan told Mr Kelly, prosecuting, that the Kennedy family had already paid a man €15,000 after their son Cormac told them his life was in danger if he failed to pay a debt he owed.

The family borrowed the money because they feared for the safety of people in the house, including their elderly grandmother who lived with them.

The grandmother died in March 2019 and two weeks after the grandmother’s funeral, Karl Hughes called home and asked for Cormac, Gda Finnan said.

After this encounter, Cormac took a backpack and his passport and left the house. He has not returned to live in the family home since.

Gda Finnan said that a few days later Karl Hughes came home and that was when the harassment started. He said Cormac owed him €8,500. He threatened the family and said he would call back with backup.

The court heard Karl called the Kennedy home five times and his brother Cian was with him on three of those occasions.

“It was a tsunami of fear that constantly overwhelmed us. We lived in a suspended existence dominated by fear of the unknown,” Deirdre Kennedy said in her impact statement, adding that the family “experienced utter terror and felt beleaguered.”

“The legacy of this crime is a horrifying part of our 2019 family history that will have lasting consequences for us, a family,” she said.

Kayleen C. Rice