A former Wigan rugby league star has been spared prison despite repeatedly pestering his ex-wife and her twin sister.
Stephen Holgate, an ex-England international who won the 1998 Super League Grand Final with the cherry and whites, was sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court.
The 44-year-old had pleaded guilty to multiple breaches of a restraining order which had prohibited him from contacting or approaching Julie Holgate and her sibling Lisa Powe.
Holgate, who also played for Workington Town, Hull and Halifax, wept in the court dock as a 24-month jail term was suspended for 24 months by Recorder Philip Grundy.
The judge opted to give the former second row a “chance” to address personal problems which “spiralled downhill” after his rugby career was ended by injury.
Brendan Burke, prosecuting, said the restraining order was imposed in October, 2014.
“That was due to the defendant posting insulting, threatening, foul-mouthed and defamatory messages on Facebook,” stated Mr Burke.
There were several victims on that occasion, including his ex-wife and her sister, and he was prohibited from contacting them all.
But from late last year, Holgate flouted the order numerous times. Having appeared drunk on Mrs Holgate’s doorstep on December 15, he then phoned her landline on Christmas Day.
“He told her if she wouldn’t be his wife again it would be ‘judgement day’,” said Mr Burke.
In January and February he repeatedly declared his love for his ex-wife’s sister, making a number of visits to Miss Powe’s home in a bid to speak with her.
In late February, he sent a string of “rambling and incoherent” texts to Mrs Holgate from hospital.
Then, having been remanded in custody, he posted four letters to Miss Powe from prison.
Mr Burke spoke of the impact on the two women. Both were said to be of “reasonable fortitude” and did not feel physically threatened.
However, the prosecutor added: “They are equally clear that they do fear escalation in the future and the possibility of violence should his condition deteriorate further.
“They want him irrevocably out of their lives but they do feel that he needs help if he is willing to accept it.”
The judge concluded that he could suspend the prison sentence, and told Holgate, of Frizington, Cumbria: “I am going to take a chance with you. You have not got to let me down.”
Holgate was made subject to a two-year supervision requirement. He must complete a rehabilitation activity requirement, a “building better relationships” programme, and observe an eight-week night-time curfew.