Exeter stalker guilty of scissors attempted murder

Helen Pearson after the attack
Image caption Helen Pearson was stabbed in the neck with a pair of scissors near St Bartholomew's Cemetery, Exeter, last October, the trial heard

A man who repeatedly stabbed a woman with scissors in Exeter has been found guilty of attempted murder.

Joseph Willis, 49, from the city, admitted causing grievous bodily harm to Helen Pearson, 34, but had denied attempted murder.

Helen Pearson was attacked near St Bartholomew's Cemetery, Exeter, the city's crown court was told.

During the trial the prosecution said the assault followed a five-year stalking campaign of Ms Pearson.

Image caption Graffiti was daubed around the streets near her flat and Ms Pearson received threatening letters

The jury was told she had reported 125 separate incidents to Devon and Cornwall Police regarding stalking.

Her car tyres were slashed and bodywork damaged, a dead cat was left on her doorstep, graffiti was daubed around the streets near her flat and she received threatening letters.

One letter said: "I want to play a game... I want to see how you would cope if you were attacked... Would you fight back? Scream? Let the game begin."

Outside the court, Ms Pearson said: "Every night you go to bed and you don't know what is going to happen and you constantly live in fear.

Image copyright Courtesy of Exeter Express and Echo
Image caption Joseph Willis dragged Ms Pearson into a cemetery

"You see that there's no way the stalking is ever going to end."

She said she had considered ending her life "on many occasions".

Her father, Bernard Pearson, said: "Nobody could see in the police that the level of violence was rising, rising and rising."

Ms Pearson and her family are making an official complaint against the force.

Outside the court, Det Insp Mike Robison said that throughout the period, police had "continued to investigate numerous incidents which were connected to her".

He said: "Following the attack, the force voluntarily referred this series of events to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)."

They have since been referred back to the force for an internal review.

He added the force had taken the stalking campaign seriously.

Saved by motorist

Willis first met Ms Pearson when they were both living in supported accommodation in Exe Street.

The court heard he turned against her because he thought she had stood him up on a proposed trip out to see a band.

Ms Pearson was on her way to a gym when she was attacked and stabbed eight times in the back, face and neck, last October.

Passers-by saw Willis drag Ms Pearson into the cemetery by the hood of her coat and lean over her as he tried to plunge the scissors into her throat.

Image caption Ms Pearson was on her way to a gym when she was attacked and stabbed eight times

The court heard motorist Sandra Robertson saved Ms Pearson by stopping her car, running over and pushing Willis away.

Judge Paul Darlow issued a £500 reward to Ms Robertson for bravery.

Adjourning sentencing for psychiatric reports, he said a lengthy term of imprisonment for Willis was "absolutely inevitable".

After the verdict Ms Pearson's parents Bernard and Lyn Pearson, from Crediton, said: "The events of last October have had a huge effect on us as a family, but there is also the family of Joseph Willis to consider and we understand the anguish they are no doubt suffering also."

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