As a village stalwart and at the age of 62, he should have known better.
But when parish council chairman Douglas Staples’s temper boiled over in a feud with a former council rival, he resorted to the politics of the playground… and signed the 65-year-old widow up to a string of dating agencies.
The former engineer dished out his own “childish” revenge after being bombarded with letters of complaint by Mrs Ray over five years.
To try to give the widow a taste of her own medicine, he registered her with a “sexy singles” website in the hope she would receive a barrage of unwanted correspondence from willing suitors.
Yesterday, however, he was counting the cost of his behaviour after a court placed a restraining order on him and fined him for harassment.
The pair had fallen out during heated debates over footpaths and street lighting when they had both sat on the council in the Berkshire village of Enborne, near Newbury, Reading magistrates heard. But their relationship deteriorated further when Staples took over as chairman from Mrs Ray. She resigned her post in 2006 for health reasons but decided to “keep her hand in” by attending meetings as a villager.
Over the following years she bombarded the council with over 70 complaints and letters requesting information, winding the chairman up so much that he embarked on his campaign of revenge.
Staples, who lives in a £400 000 house less than a mile from Mrs Ray, told the court he was baffled at the complaints about council standards and his behaviour in particular. But after five years his patience ran out.
An ad for “sexy singles in Wiltshire” had appeared on the local council website and he clicked on it. Staples said he filled out basic information and added an email address used by Mrs Ray to sign her up to three agencies, including match.com. Introductory messages welcoming her to the sites were then sent to the email address.
He also requested a fire safety assessment of Mrs Ray’s £400 000 Grade II cottage from the local fire service and misrepresented its response by sending a heavily edited version of the letter.
The harassment incidents - which Staples admitted - happened between October 2010 and April last year.
The court heard Mrs Ray’s complaints had included not receiving minutes of meetings and criticising the standards of the council’s board. Even Newbury MP Richard Benyon waded into the feud, describing it as “appearing to have taken on the factional nature of a Balkan enclave”. Fatima Kola, defending Staples, said: “This was on the back of five years of dealing with this lady. He reached a point where he became frustrated and engaged in childish behaviour.”
Prosecutor Madelaine Power said Staples’s actions had left Mrs Ray feeling “bullied”.
In a victim impact statement, she said she felt “very vulnerable”, adding: “He made me feel hopeless and helpless.”
Staples, who resigned as chairman in September, was given an order banning him from contacting Mrs Ray and was ordered to pay £735 in fines and costs.
Outside court, he said: “I feel like I’m the victim in this situation.”
At her home, Mrs Ray said: “I feel drained. It has been absolutely dire.” - Daily Mail