Comedian Rory McGrath has avoided jail after admitting harassing a married former lover for 14 months.
The TV star, whose parents were from St Helens, was given a ten week prison sentence suspended for 18 months after pleading guilty to a single charge of harassment when he appeared for trial at Huntingdon Magistrates’ Court in Cambridgeshire on Thursday.
They Think It’s All Over star McGrath, 60, whose wife Nicola was in court to support him, began harassing his victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, when she ended their affair.
McGrath, who also appeared in comedy documentary Three Men In A Boat, originally denied a stalking charge but admitted harassment when the charge was changed.
As well as the suspended sentence, he was given a five-year restraining order banning him from contacting his victim, her three children, her husband or her current partner. He was also ordered to pay £200 costs.
The court heard that McGrath, of Grantchester Street, Cambridge, became “unstable and tempestuous” after his lover dumped him and asked him to delete “intimate photographs” he had taken of them together.
Anthony Abell, prosecuting, said McGrath first met the complainant in the 1990s and then more recently through work as she was a writer and broadcaster.
“They got on well and began to exchange messages and their friendship developed into a physical relationship from November 2010 to May 2015,” said Mr Abell.
“Both the defendant and the complainant were married to other people and their relationship had managed to be kept secret from their respective spouses.
“In the complainant’s case she was unhappily married.
“Although the affair had started off as something that they both cherished, by August 2014 the complainant had become very unhappy with the relationship.
“She began to find Mr McGrath difficult and unpleasant company.
“I don’t plan to go into details but there was a time when she was seeking to disengage from the long-standing affair.
“She was very conscious of the fact that he did have several photographs of them together, including some intimate photographs as well that had been taken consensually, that he had stored electronically.
“She made it clear to him that she wanted it to end towards the end of May 2015.
“Following on from that she asked Mr McGrath to delete from his phone and any other devices anything that related to her to protect her and her family.
“The defendant seems to have found it very, very difficult to deal with.”
Mr Abell said McGrath then pursued a course of conduct described as “unstable and tempestuous”.
His victim agreed to meet him at his home in July 2015 despite feeling uncomfortable about it.
“He had put a mattress in the front room,” said Mr Abell.
“He asked her if she was frightened.”
McGrath bought them both an alcoholic drink, the court heard.
“He asked after a few minutes of rather difficult conversation if, in the past months, she kept the relationship going in case she was worried about him having evidence.
“She felt he was trying to cross-examine her.”
He continued: “She made it clear to him that their relationship was over.
“His reaction was to break down in tears and try to kiss her.
“She made it clear she did not want that. He then spoke in a theatrical voice as if there was an audience and said ‘OK ladies and gentlemen, we have closure’.”
Mr Abell said the complainant recorded some of McGrath’s behaviour on her mobile phone but this was not played in court.
The court heard that, between June 2015 and August 2016, McGrath sent the woman emails, approached her in the street and followed her.
He also sent letters to the woman’s husband.
District judge Ken Sheraton, sentencing, said: “This was a persistent, consistent and controlling imposition of yourself on the victim and those close to her.”
He noted McGrath went to the workplace of the complainant’s husband and went close to her workplace, and he said there was “use or threats of use” of photos.
He said only a custodial sentence was appropriate but he felt able to suspend this after hearing mitigation including McGrath’s guilty plea.
In 2013, McGrath was cautioned by police over a drunken assault against a couple.
He was said to have attacked the man and a woman, who were trying to help him while he was “heavily in drink”, police said at the time of the incident.
The man suffered a bloody nose and a scratched face, and McGrath was subsequently arrested over the assaults, which took place at a house in Pool, near Redruth in Cornwall, where McGrath grew up.
In a statement outside court, McGrath thanked his family for standing by him.
Reading on his behalf, his lawyer Nick Barnes said: “This has been a dark time and thankfully it’s now over.
“I wish to thank the judge, and apologise to my wife and family and thank them for their incredible support during this time.
“I now want to move on with my life, thank you.”
As reporters asked him if he had any regrets, McGrath walked away with his arm around his wife’s shoulders.
Mr Abell said McGrath “began to ask if she was in a relationship with someone else and if she was he would tell her husband”.
“He said she should contact a lawyer as all this would make a wonderful court case,” Mr Abell added.
The complainant eventually contacted police for advice “but was still hopeful she could resolve it without making a formal complaint for harassment”.
Describing another meeting, Mr Abell said: “She noticed that he smelt strongly of alcohol.
“He said he was going to tell his own wife everything even if it destroyed them both.”
McGrath sent a string of emails demanding they were answered within 24 hours, and in August 2015 the woman, “feeling exposed, terrified”, told her husband about the affair with McGrath and about his behaviour.
The husband emailed McGrath to say he knew everything and to stop contacting his wife, but it continued.
In one message to the husband, McGrath said he had “mesmerisingly beautiful but quite graphic photographs” of the woman.
In November 2015 McGrath tried to speak directly with the woman’s husband at work by phoning in and pretending to be someone else, Mr Abell said.
On another occasion he cycled up to the woman and her teenage daughter as the pair were jogging.
“Her daughter started to cry and said ‘leave my mum alone’,” Mr Abell said.
“He then cycled off and said as a parting shot ‘personality disorders are clearly genetic’.
“They took it as a suggestion her daughter suffered from a mental condition.”
McGrath approached the woman on a separate occasion and suggested they go for champagne as “it was the anniversary of the last time they had been intimate together”.
Mr Abell said the complainant began a relationship with another man and McGrath cycled off when he saw them together.
“He was later seen in some bushes in the park,” said Mr Abell. “He was then cycling up and down a nearby road before eventually leaving.”
On a separate occasion McGrath saw the woman in public and put a packet of brown sugar on the table in front of her and said it was “for the anniversary of when you tried to stitch me up with the police”.
In July 2016 the complainant received a picture message from McGrath’s wife Nicola, Mr Abell said.
“Mr McGrath and his wife had a verbal argument as there was a stain on his sofa and he said it was menstrual blood from the complainant,” Mr Abell said.
The woman went to police again in August 2016 and made a formal witness statement and McGrath was interviewed the following day.
The woman said she had needed medication as a result of what happened.
Angela Rafferty, mitigating, said McGrath’s wife, Nicola, was in court to support him.
Mrs McGrath, who wore a floral patterned top and had a bandage on her right hand, appeared to shake as some of the evidence was read.
McGrath, in a black jumper, blue blazer, shirt and tie, appeared emotionless as he stood in the dock.
Ms Rafferty said of McGrath and the complainant: “He was in love with her.
“He thought she loved him and there were many communications from him saying as much.”
She continued: “She’s a much younger and very attractive and glamorous woman and, while Mr McGrath may not thank me for saying this, it may be that there’s a mid-life crisis element to this from her enthusiastic sexual interest in him.”
She said the rejection caused McGrath “real and genuine pain” and the situation “escalated”.
The complainant was “blowing hot and cold towards Mr McGrath”, Ms Rafferty said, adding she was “willing to accept advice and support about her career”.
She said there was no suggestion of violence and that McGrath was a “gentle and mild” man.
“His marriage has been threatened but it’s the case that he’s now today a sad and wise man,” added Ms Rafferty.
“Their relationship is healing and her (Mrs McGrath) ability to be magnanimous and understand his conduct is nothing short of phenomenal, but it’s testament to something about him that she’s able to take that stance.
“She’s not someone who came into his life since he was successful.
“They’ve been together since they were students.”