Learning the Hard Way
Last week, I visited Bath, where I used to live. Perhaps more on the trip itself in another post. Maybe.
This post starts with a little accident I had on my second night there, when I hit a metal pole which was completely hidden by overgrown brambles and hedge, in a little lane of private parking, when pulling over to make room for a cyclist. Don’t worry, my car saw to it that the pole is no longer hidden. I’ve got your back. (Rumney, if you’re reading this, I’m still working on an angle where this is your fault. I’m not ready to give up yet!)
But this post isn’t really about the accident or the damage, or even the trip to Bath. This is about something altogether different, and it took me a little while to see the connection. You see, I realised that the person on the bike looked familiar to me and I panicked just a bit. I’m not saying it caused the bump – I know it didn’t – but it was something I wasn’t ready for.
I’m pretty sure now that it was not the person I thought it might be. There’s really no reason it would be – it wasn’t someone I knew from Bath and as far as I know, this person has never visited Bath. However, he’s been on my mind a lot recently, and I don’t know why. If you read this blog regularly (or as regularly as I post), you might have seen a poem I posted in March about a psychopath. HE has been on my mind a lot. My “stalker”, although that name barely scratches the surface of what he did.
It’s 15 years since his “activity” began, on 25 June 2001. I hadn’t realised until later that he had been laying the groundwork for 6 months already by that time, in his guise as a “friend”. He was the person that introduced Stonelaughter and I, saying that he thought we would get on.
Shortly before Psychopathic Stalker (PS from here on in) introduced me to Stonelaughter, I went through a breakup that was particularly painful and protracted. PS offered a shoulder to cry on, and assured me that I would get over this relationship and move on. He once said he’d like it if I moved on to him. I told him it wasn’t going to happen and we carried on being friends. By the time I was ready to move on, Stonelaughter and I had been friends for quite some time and I hadn’t seen PS for 3 months. Our phone calls were increasingly rare although we still chatted online fairly often.
It was many months after we were introduced that Stonelaughter and I moved from “friends” to “lovers”, but when we did, the harassment began immediately. We spent a wonderful weekend together, interrupted only by a short phone call from PS demanding to know where I was, since I clearly wasn’t at home. I wasn’t ready to share our weekend with anyone so I just said I was spending the weekend with a friend. That’s all it took.
It started slowly. When I returned home after work on Monday, I found my website had been hacked into and getting access again was almost impossible – the host in those days not believing that someone had gained access. The next day, I started receiving odd text messages. Just a couple a day at first. Graphic, unpleasant messages from random strangers. And then the phone calls came. I learned from these phone calls that my number was listed on an adult personals site, but it took what seemed like forever to find out where. Simply asking the men who called where they got my number resulted in them hanging up. In the end, I managed to get the answer by asking one man which site he’d found me on, since I had advertised on several. His garbled answer was enough to go on. I quickly explained that I had not placed any ads and he was very apologetic. Still, his number went into the log I was keeping, sure that the police would be interested.
Before the end of the first week, I had managed to get the sole ad removed, but I also discovered that I was on some awful auction site, a whore available for rent to the highest bidder. I took a screenshot and then contacted the company to remove the listing.
Next, I found a website where I was described as a whore (how else was I paying my student loans? The irony being that in my first year as a teacher, I wasn’t earning enough to have to pay them back), and someone who sets out to lead men on and take advantage of them. According to this site, I visited sex clubs and taught my students at school the basics of witchcraft. The school where I worked was identified on the site. At the same time, a parallel site about Stonelaughter appeared, accusing him of some dreadful things, and identifying his employer. PS went as far as using the logo of Stonelaughter’s employer to mimic their official website. That got closed down PDQ – a large American corporation with a former Presidential candidate at its helm did not take kindly to the mock website and threatened a lawsuit. After that, he never really bothered with Stonelaughter, and instead redoubled his efforts in my direction.
At this point, the man from whom I’d had the messy breakup (we’ll call him MB) got in touch to tell me that I had brought this on myself by mistreating PS so badly. Apparently, despite me being clear it wasn’t going to happen, PS fully expected me to move on and into a relationship with him.
Meanwhile, I had decided that enough was enough and made a complaint of harassment to the police. An officer was duly dispatched to my flat to look over the “evidence” I had accumulated. After viewing it, he said it all seemed a bit pathetic really and suggested I grow up.
Next (I think, but the order of things is a little hazy), I started getting around 30k emails a day. Yes, thirty thousand. Sometimes less, sometimes more. All sent from a bulk sender of course, with random characters as the message body usually. Their sole purpose was to make sure that I found it difficult to access my real email, as first my computer had to download all the spam (on dial-up!). The message subject changed daily, as did the sending address so preventing them from being downloaded was almost impossible. This went on for weeks.
Before long I was called in to speak to the Headteacher at my school. He had received a complaint about me. It was pretty damning. However, on checking the names in the database, the Head had discovered that there was not, nor ever had been, a pupil at the school with a parent who matched the name on the letter. It was a bit curious. The letter, amongst other things, alleged that I was trying to teach my students about witchcraft. It referenced a recent very successful school trip to a stone circle and long barrow that I had organised as part of a module on the history of religion. I was accompanied by my Head of Faculty, and other faculty staff who all praised me for the trip, its content and organisation. However the complaint letter asked if I would soon be teaching spellcraft and dancing naked in the moonlight with students. It was dismissed as not worthy of further discussion, apart from to ask if I knew anything about who might have sent the letter. I relayed what had been happening, and was asked to report further activity to the school.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this was all hard to contend with. I was nearing the end of my first year in teaching, trying to focus on making sure my paperwork was up to date to make sure I passed the NQT year; I was the department lead for my subject and was taking my first class through their GCSE. Stonelaughter worked away in those days, and by now he was in Dublin Monday-Friday and we only had rare weekends together, his children obviously taking priority when he was home.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. I left school one afternoon, and walked to my car which was parked on the street outside, since I’d missed out on a staff space on site that morning. As I unlocked it, two men approached me and asked for me by name. I asked what they wanted and they identified themselves as reporters from The Sun. They had a copy of the letter that had been sent to my school and they smelt a story. Panicking, I said I wouldn’t discuss it in the street and asked them to come with me back to the school. Asking them to wait in reception whilst I found somewhere suitable for us to talk, I rushed to find the nearest member of the management team and tried to explain what the hell was happening. I couldn’t have asked for more support. The assistant head took me to the staffroom and fetched the deputy head who took my car keys, left the school by a back door and drove my car on site, away from the car park, parked between outdoor classrooms so it couldn’t be seen easily. Meanwhile, the assistant head went to speak to the reporters who had, thankfully, stayed where I left them. They were told that I had now left school for the day and no-one was available to talk to them. They left.
About an hour later, it was judged to be safe for me to leave and I drove home, only to find the reporters waiting for me on the doorstep. I simply drove straight past and went back to work. My car was parked in its hiding place again, and I was looked after by my Head of House, who was meeting the parents of our new intake. At the the end of the evening, the Head called another colleague and asked her to drive me home, and if there was any sign of the reporters, to take me to stay with her for the night. All was clear, so I slept in my own flat and walked to my colleague’s house the next morning to get a lift back to work. I never saw the reporters again.
They kept themselves busy however. When I got home the following day, my neighbours approached looking worried. They’d had reporters at the door, asking about me. Did they know I was a witch? Had they seen me practice witchcraft and more questions of the same ilk. My neighbours were baffled with the questions and assured me they simply told the reporters they didn’t know what they were talking about. Deep breaths.
A day or so later, I had a phone call from my Mum. The reporters had called at the vicarage, some 280 miles away, asking the same questions. I hadn’t told my parents about any of what had happened, so it all came as a bit of a shock when I explained why the reporters were there.
The school continued to be supportive, although it must have been very difficult for them. I remember the day I first saw an A4 leaflet with my photo on it appear in a lesson. A sheet which told students I was a witch, and which had been liberally distributed around the school, as far as I could tell. A student casually let one fall to the floor, and it took everything I had to calmly pick it up, screw it into a ball and throw it in the bin, with what I hope passed as bored indifference at what was on the paper. I wanted to curl up into a ball and cry until there were no tears left. A day or so later, students in another class began to quote things from that website about me – it was still there for all to see and I seemed powerless to do anything about it.
I went home that night, found another 30k emails waiting for me and decided I’d had enough. I popped to the shop over the road and bought a bottle of vodka. I already had plenty of paracetamol in my flat because of the stress headaches I was getting. I poured the vodka and was taking tablets out of packets when my Mum called to see how I was. I broke down and told her everything. She made me promise not to move or do anything until she called me back. Twenty minutes later she called to say the police were on their way. She had called my local police, told them what was going on and that I had been told to grow up when I reported it and what effect it was having. A few minutes later, a policeman was at the door.
I showed him everything – the log of calls and text messages, the emails, the auction posting, the website, the leaflets from school, told him about the reporters …. and he asked “Do you really go to sex clubs?”. I’m not sure what the look on my face was but he very quickly apologised and started taking the whole thing seriously. Eventually, he was great. He logged everything, sat with me and smoked with me whilst I tried to stop crying. At some point I think he must have quietly removed the tablets too. The website came down soon after, I think. Things were complicated though. PS was still a serving member of the RAF based 240 miles away, and so my local police had to hand things over to the RAF police to handle. Apparently, their way of handling it was to knock on his door in the Barracks and ask if he’d done these things. He said “No”, and that was the end of it as far as the RAF police were concerned.
You can probably imagine the effect that had on things. Suddenly as well as all the spam he was sending, PS started sending me personal emails, telling me that I couldn’t accuse him of harassment if what he was saying was true (choosing to ignore that what he was saying were huge lies hung on the merest nuggets of truth – I did, in fact, have outstanding student loans; my flat was *almost* in the red light district, but was actually in the middle of a lovely Muslim community; I did take a school trip to a stone circle etc). His emails contained threats of what would happen if I didn’t call off the police. I handed them over to the police along with everything else.
The Sun were still threatening to publish a story at this point. Although I had not seen the reporters again, I was getting daily phone calls from them asking for a comment or an interview. I did as I was told and said “no comment” as calmly and politely as I could manage, scared of giving them any extra reason to go to print. The school stepped in again. The Head spoke to them and told them what was happening with the harassment case, and told them in no uncertain terms that they were helping destroy a promising career. The local police were persuaded to speak to the reporters and gently suggested that any further action from the reporters might be considered harassment in its own right. And still they wouldn’t back down. We were given a publication date.
At the eleventh hour, they changed their mind. I still do not know why. I drove home from work one Thursday afternoon, having been told it would be published the next day. I drove back to school the next morning feeling sick. I was pulled to one side by the Bursar and told not to worry, it was sorted. The Head asked me to his office and told me that The Sun had finally agreed not to print a story at all, although he wouldn’t tell me what had changed their minds. “It’s over”, is all he said.
Of course it wasn’t over, but that aspect of it was. The police tried again. Having been told by the police local to the RAF base that it couldn’t be handled by them, and having failed to get the RAF police to take it seriously, my local police contacted the MOD police. It had been eight weeks by now since my website was hacked and the first text messages had started appearing. We were now well into the summer holidays and my GP put me on antidepressants, fearful that I would be in no fit state to start the new term otherwise. The MOD Plod were fantastic. They took over the case and assigned an officer to it. He drove the 200+ miles to my flat on a couple of occasions to get statements and make sure the case moved along.
The majority of the harassment was over by the start of September. I still got emails from PS telling me that if I didn’t stop the case that was now progressing against him, I’d find myself in Holloway. In November, PS was found guilty of harassment and given community service, and a restraining order lasting 18 months. I was relieved it was over, relieved I had not had to go to court, relieved I had been believed. I was confused about the sentencing though.
A phone call during my lunch break soon explained everything. The MOD Police Officer called to let me know the outcome and then dropped a bombshell. He hadn’t gone to prison, although the case certainly warranted it, because they were building another, more serious case against him. When they had arrested him, they had smashed the door down to his room in Barracks, and caught him sorting through child pornography on his computer. They had been building a case against him ever since.
I was shocked and sickened but worse was to come. He was now claiming that I put the images on his computer (even though I hasn’t actually seen him since March that year – three months before Stonelaughter and I started seeing each other). It seemed that no-one believed his defence, but I was going to be called as a witness in the case. It took a year for the case to come to trial, and that entire year was spent worrying about having to go to court and give evidence against him, despite there being a restraining order that prevented him from being within 50 metres of me, or contacting me in any way at all. My only way out of it, I was told, was to have a doctor declare me unfit to give evidence, due to the stress of having to face him after what he did to me. I thought this would be a quick process, but in fact, I was still trying to get that exemption a couple of weeks before the trial, and had already had to book time off to attend the trial. However, to my relief, the exemption did come through, with a week to spare, at which point PS dropped me from his defence story and instead accused MB (remember him?), with whom he shared an internet connection in Barracks.
The trial ended with PS being found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison. I was free from the nightmare.
PS did try and appeal his conviction, although he wasn’t successful. However, he did successfully appeal his sentence, and it was reduced to 6 months, which he’d already served by then, and he was released, just as the restraining order ended, and just a couple of weeks before Stonelaughter and I got married. I was terrified he would turn up, hated leaving the house, couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. To this day, I still hate using the phone and more often than not refuse calls from numbers I don’t know.
Even from prison he would contact me or, more often Stonelaughter. At each Pagan festival, an email would appear from him. He stalked us on internet forums, keeping an eye on us. That lasted for a few years after he came out of prison.
And there you have it. I still have nightmares about it, fifteen years on.
I suppose I’m writing about this now because I need to get it out. Despite what MB said, I know I did not deserve what happened to me, and when he saw the extent of it all, I’m pretty sure he knew that too. But whatever the truth of it, I do feel to blame. The very first time I met PS, MB had asked him to come along when we went out for a drink together. I remember that alarm bells went off in my head at that very first meeting, and continued to sound, albeit more quietly, over the whole time he pretended to be a friend.
I’m reading a book at the moment – Women Who Run With The Wolves – and this has been a feature throughout so far, the notion that our instincts are good, if only we’d learn to listen to them. It’s definitely a lesson I have learned the hard way, but I want to make sure it’s not one I have to learn again.