The stalker and the woman who refused to give in

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Shadow of man standing on pavement after darkImage source, iStock

What's it like to be stalked for a decade? One woman tells her story.

This sort of thing can happen to very ordinary people and I should know, because I'm very ordinary. It's pervasive and it's common.

We first met about 25 years ago when we both worked for my in-laws' family business. He was good company, a bit eccentric, but an interesting man to talk to.

We eventually became close family friends. He got to know my husband and his parents and we even made him godfather to our son.

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An iPM listener recalls being stalked

The full story was on the iPM programme on BBC Radio 4 - catch up on BBC iPlayer Radio

But a few years after that, things changed and became slightly awkward and slightly invasive. He became too interested in our son's education and the decisions we were making. In retrospect we should've known something was wrong, but we made allowances to avoid a confrontation.

He was going through a divorce at the time and all I can think is that I represented the sort of housewife he always wanted. I'm good at cooking. I know how to darn socks and knit. And I have a son.

It was our decision to move away from the area that proved to be the game changer though. He found that profoundly unsettling and became increasingly awkward. Through letters and phone calls he told us we were "chasing a lifestyle".

When we did eventually move I thought we had escaped him, but I was soon proved wrong.

He sent a letter to my mother-in-law, which was obviously designed to cause a major family rift. Luckily she saw through it and it was at that point we decided to cut all ties with him.

"We don't want any more contact. This is not what we want," we told him.

He didn't listen though. His letters and silent phone calls just became more unpleasant and four years after we moved house it all seemed utterly inescapable. I couldn't even go to the end of my own garden to empty the bin because I was so scared.

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There were two incidents where I was in the house and I would find something hung on the backdoor. Obviously he had come to the garden.

When we did eventually get the police involved he was apparently surprised to get a caution from them. He didn't see that what he was doing was wrong and it made him more threatening. Instead of sending letters to me he started sending postcards that my son could see.

He'd been stalking me for six years when he was issued with an injunction.

Help and advice

You should contact the police if you're being stalked - you have a right to feel safe in your home and workplace. Call 999 if you or someone else is in immediate danger otherwise contact your local police.

I thought it would help. I thought it would stop him, but he carried on as normal after a three-week hiatus.

When he eventually broke it he was taken to court and used his appearance to get closer to me again. I was a protected witness so I spoke from behind screens.

He represented himself, but because I was protected he wasn't allowed to cross-examine me. They brought in a barrister to speak his words.

He said we had been in a relationship and that I should be charged with perjury for denying it, which meant I had to go through the trauma of invasive questioning from his barrister about our alleged affair. It was very unpleasant - repeated questioning and trying to put me in the wrong.

He lost his case and went quiet for the nine weeks he was behind bars. It was during that time I began to wonder: "What if he attacked?"

There were two or three fairly serious offers of "I know someone, if you pay me some money he'll be threatened".

I wasn't tempted by that though, because my stalker was the kind of person who would use that to go to the police and make himself the victim. He's not stupid. He's very, very clever.

Image source, iStock

The letters started again. He broke the injunction for a second time and three days before he was due in court we heard a strange noise that woke us in the middle of the night. We thought nothing of it, but early in the morning, the doorbell rang and my husband went downstairs.

My stalker was at the front door holding a gun.

My husband was pushing against the door. But the stalker got his foot inside the door and tried to force it open. There was a struggle and my husband managed to get the door shut.

I rang the emergency services. But soon the stalker was crashing into the back door as we barricaded ourselves in the bedroom and after a few minutes we could hear him inside the house. He was going from room to room looking for us and he had a bladed hammer to smash the door down.

As he pounded and shouted at our bedroom door I said to my husband: "I think we should jump." I honestly don't think we'd have got out alive if he'd got in.

I climbed out of the window. It's amazing how far you can jump when you have to.

Once I was down I ran out to the road expecting it to be like an American cop drama with a horseshoe of police cars ready to protect me. It wasn't.

The police were hanging back at the end of the road while they waited for armed officers to arrive. So I ran to the house opposite and a stranger leaving for work led me inside to safety. My husband got out slightly later.

Meanwhile, the stalker was still in our house. Several hours passed before he surrendered and his parting gift was some convincing fake explosives left in our house that meant they brought the army in.

It's hard to convey how I feel. Everyone thinks it's about being frightened and being frightened is a fleeting thing. But it's the pressure of constant terror. It's like managing under a great weight, but on the day of the attack I didn't feel frightened at all.

In the days that followed I felt a certain amount of euphoria that I'd escaped. My senses were heightened. Colours were brilliant, noises were acute and people seemed to be speaking at half speed. But that sense of relief soon came crashing down and the realisation of what I'd been through affected me deeply. Unfortunately we were both badly affected and ended up quite ill.

It manifested itself in strange ways. I didn't want to change the locks, but I did want to change the cushions on our bed. I don't like scented candles, but for a while I had one in every room.

I even invested my stalker with superpowers. I was convinced that somehow he would manage to get out of prison. But I know that's unlikely because he continues to write letters which I now just pass straight to the police. He won't be released until he can prove that he isn't a risk to me or anyone else.

After years of being stalked there are some bits of me that are so emotionally dented they'll never be straight again. I will always be wobbly about the post - and I do have nightmares. But they're not nightmares about the attack. They're about earlier stages when I think I should've done something to stop him. It's irrational though, because I know couldn't have stopped him.

Now I have a job where I'm involved with lots of strangers, but I'm much more alert when I feel something is off. I will back off immediately. I'm much more prepared to listen to my gut feeling than let politeness override it.

What's the law?

As of 25 November 2012, stalking became a specific offence in England and Wales. Cases of stalking from after this date are dealt with under section 2A and section 4A of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

To prove a section 2A it needs to be shown a perpetrator pursued a course of conduct that amounted to harassment. It has a maximum prison sentence of six months. Section 4A is defined as stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm of distress. It has a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Someone being stalked can also take out civil proceedings. If they sue the person stalking them under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 they can obtain an injunction. This is an order from a court that the person stops the acts amounting to stalking or harassment. If the injunction is breached it is either a criminal offence, for which the person could be imprisoned by a criminal court for up to two years, or a contempt of court. This is when someone being stalked applies to the civil court for the person who stalked them to be imprisoned for up to two years.

You can get further information from the National Stalking Helpline.

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