Another day, another traumatised woman revealing how her life was decimated by a stalker. In a statement read to the court at her stalker’s sentencing on Friday, The Crown star Claire Foy told how she feared for her life after an incessant year-long campaign from a man who was obsessed with her.
He sent her thousands of abusive emails, including one referring to rape, and turned up at her house and spoke to her seven-year-old daughter. Yet the man in question has been spared jail.
Some reading Claire Foy’s story may have thought this sort of thing only happens to the rich and famous — par for the course for any female in the public eye.
Let me assure you, however, that is far from the case. Yes, we may all regularly hear about high-profile women who endure the misery of a stalker — presenter Emily Maitlis and actress Keira Knightley among them — but this crime isn’t just the preserve of the well-known.
In a statement read to the court at her stalker’s sentencing on Friday, The Crown star Claire Foy (pictured) told how she feared for her life after an incessant year-long campaign from a man who was obsessed with her
Stalking is now so prevalent that no woman can consider herself safe from it. It scars the lives of teenagers, busy mothers and middle-aged women.
I should know. For three years, I had a stalker. His behaviour meant I sought the protection of strangers when alone and vulnerable, called 999, gave statements to the police. And still he continued. I wondered what would bring this horror to an end.
Would it ever stop? Has he really gone away? Even now I dare not answer that question. Little wonder, then, that I literally cheered out loud when I woke to the news in November that campaigners, led by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, have launched a ‘super complaint’ against police forces who they say are failing to protect women from stalkers, leaving victims at risk because of ‘systemic’ failures. Police watchdogs must now consider whether to launch a national inquiry.
I dearly hope they do. London’s Victims Commissioner Claire Waxman, whose own stalker was jailed — but then, to her great distress, immediately released because of time he’d already spent in prison awaiting trial — also supports it.
Talking to BBC’s Newsnight, she revealed she had been stalked for almost 20 years, at times sitting up all night holding a knife. Yet her stalker, Elliot Fogel, an old classmate, breached a lifetime ban on contacting her six times.
My own experience led me to make The Followers, a podcast series about stalking.
In it, I found plain deficiencies in the law; police are often loath to act and prison sentences are pitifully weak, not to mention the ‘protection’ orders that do little to deter the seemingly growing band of stalkers who exist among us.
In the year ending March 2022, stalking and harassment accounted for 34 per cent of instances of violence against a person. Yet the police recorded crimes and outcomes data shows only 6 per cent of reported stalking cases in England and Wales end in charges being brought.
I am lucky mine was one of those rare convictions.
I’d seen him a couple of times that week in 2015, sitting on a wall opposite the entrance to the London studios where I present my daily radio talk show for LBC. Nothing unusual about fans of radio waiting to see their favourite presenter coming out. He was fairly young, so I assumed he was there for someone from one of the music stations.
Not so. He was then on the same Underground carriage as me two days running. On the third day, he was right next to me on a different Tube journey. The penny dropped. This might be a problem.
Little did I know these seemingly harmless sightings would escalate to such an extent that almost three years later — when he eventually turned up outside my house — I’d chase after him in my car, shaking, crying, yelling out of the window: ‘Why are you still following me?’
That first week I noticed him I called the police. They took it more seriously than me, setting out my options, which included having him arrested. I preferred a more welfare-led approach because of how he seemed. A sad figure with behaviour issues.
That was a mistake. Pretty soon I’d realise my welfare was at risk.
It was only after finding him outside my house, and me calling the police again — I must have called them around 20 times by then — that he was arrested and charged.
I now know my story is atypical. One survey found victims go to police only after their hundredth stalking experience. When they do, unlike the officers who initially advised me, many have experiences minimised. A ‘wait and see’ approach is taken.
My advice is don’t wait and see. Tell and act. Waiting is a green light to a stalker. Waiting can be fatal.
It was for Alice Ruggles.
The 24-year-old Northumbria University graduate ended a short relationship with Trimaan ‘Harry’ Dhillon in the summer of 2016, but he refused to accept her decision. Alice told friends, family and police about his campaign of stalking, which included threats to kill himself, endless messages and unwanted gifts.
In the year ending March 2022, stalking and harassment accounted for 34 per cent of instances of violence against a person. Stock image used
When I spoke to Alice’s parents, Clive and Sue, they described how even they had initially interpreted his insistence as just the pain of romantic loss.
It’s a mistake many continue to make, including the police. Extreme behaviour is normalised, which is an open goal for a stalker.
On October 12, 2016, Trimaan Dhillon used it to murder Alice at her home in Gateshead. She had told her sister ‘the police will respond properly when he stabs me’. She knew and she was right.
Her parents campaign to educate people about stalking and harassment. Her father said yesterday: ‘Too many people still think of stalking as a bit of a joke — or something that happens to other people.’
Dhillon’s behaviour was textbook ‘rejected’ stalker, one of the five identified types. As well as ‘rejected’ stalkers, normally an ex, you also have ‘intimacy seekers’, who believe they’re in a relationship with you; ‘inadequate suitors’, who want to be close by, following and watching; and ‘resentful’ stalkers where the smallest slight can trigger a campaign of revenge or harm to your reputation, career or property.
Lastly, there are ‘predatory’ stalkers. Overwhelmingly men, they don’t target people they know, but hunt a type in order to kill. These include the serial killer Levi Bellfield and also Jordan McSweeney, who stalked other women on the night he murdered Zara Aleena last year.
Don’t wait and see — it’s a green light to a stalker and can be fatal
Ex-partners often pose a similar risk of physical violence to predatory stalkers. If an ex is stalking you and starts using threats to kill themselves, a pet, or you, the advice of Met Detective Inspector Lee Barnard is to take it seriously. Never assume it’s merely attention seeking. Women have died by underestimating the threat to them or, indeed, by police doing the same.
As DI Barnard, a key figure in the Met’s Stalking Threat Assessment Unit, which works on the police response to stalking, says: ‘If you think you might be being stalked you almost certainly are.’
Yet victims are frequently told the opposite by police. The ex who keeps pestering you is just heartbroken. The colleague who sends unwelcome emails is misreading your signals.
From the stories I have been told, there’s no doubt police officers often grossly misunderstand the law. Far too many tell victims there’s nothing they can do if the stalker hasn’t yet physically harmed them or their property.
But while there is no specific legal definition of stalking, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service define it as a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive. As few times as twice. So challenge anyone who tells you to wait and see, or to wait to be hurt.
There is supposed to be a new line of defence: Stalking Protection Orders, introduced in 2019. Police can apply for a civil SPO to block alleged stalkers from contacting or approaching their victims while a criminal investigation into their behaviour continues. It’s a court order with more force than a harassment order and more consequences if broken.
Claire Foy was granted one — yet her stalker still sent her another letter and a parcel from the hospital where he was being treated.
Other recent SPO failures include Wafah Chkaifi, 43, who was killed by her ex-husband, Leon McCaskie, last year after she had dropped off her children at school in North London.
A restraining order against him had been given after their divorce, but he persistently stalked her anyway. Not long before he stabbed her to death the Met Police obtained an SPO to keep him away from her while they investigated him. Then he murdered her.
In hindsight, I can see I waited too long to insist on having the man stalking me arrested and charged. Yes, he has social developmental difficulties, as confirmed to me by the police. But, really, what stalker doesn’t?
Anyone who thinks you don’t get to say who is and isn’t in your life clearly has a behavioural disorder of one sort or another.
When my case went to court in 2018, I must confess I was shocked to hear the defence lawyer open with an argument along the lines of: ‘She has her own radio show, goes on television and writes articles for newspapers. She’s no victim.’ An unexpected twist on the short skirt defence, I must say.
The court was told the offender just wanted to say thank you for my programmes about autism.
The evidence pointed to something more sinister. Despite using everything available to me in law, his behaviour kept escalating, with him showing up at my work, at train stations, at cafes I was in.
Police went to his home and explained to him and his parents he could commit to a harassment order, designed to deter him. They signed one at a police station. Nothing changed.
When he turned up at my local train station, police examined his travel history which showed multiple journeys there, a long way from his home. He once told police he wanted to move to the area I live in. My blood ran cold.
He is now subject to an indefinite restraining order, was fined and ordered to undergo some sort of psycho-social treatment.
So why don’t I feel confident it’s really been dealt with?
Well, cuts to the criminal justice system and just about every other service make me doubt how much psychiatric treatment is given to offenders. That must be a huge contributing factor to the repeat offending Claire Waxman, among others, have had to endure.
She is calling for automatic increased sentences for offenders who breach restraining orders. She is right to. After all, the only thing that will protect some victims is the imprisonment of the stalker.
Yet even jail didn’t halt TV presenter Emily Maitlis’s appalling experience of stalking. For more than 20 years, the man who stalked her has repeatedly written to her and her relatives from jail. A judge told him he clearly saw his restraining order as ‘meaningless’.
He showed up at my work, at train stations, at cafes I was in
When the man following me appeared at my house it was on a rare Sunday of total freedom. I’d seen friends for lunch, had a manicure and was happily pottering about near home. Then the stab of shock and hopelessness as I walked up my front steps and saw him standing in the street.
All stalking is an act of violence. To lose your emotional and physical privacy is a horribly stressful and isolating thing. A stalker is arrogance made flesh. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to describe how it can unmoor you.
I haven’t seen the man since he was prosecuted, but I don’t assume that means he’s fully gone away.
The wearying thing about being stalked is it never fully stops, even if you get a half-decent outcome. You don’t come out of the experience quite the same person.
I am hyper-vigilant, constantly checking train platforms and carriages. I wake suddenly in the night thinking someone is in my bedroom — something which never happened before.
I see men who look like him and am briefly frozen on the spot. I’ve shown neighbours his picture in case he tries to ‘befriend’ them. I vary my journey home because, well, you know . . . It’s still there. Even though he might not be.