The ArgusHove woman 'kidnapped, assaulted and brainwashed', trial told (From The Argus)

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Hove woman 'kidnapped, assaulted and brainwashed', trial told

The Argus: Stephen Webber Stephen Webber

A photographer kidnapped a model by tricking her into believing she would be killed by Russian secret agents if she left him, a court was told.

Stephen Webber brainwashed the woman into staying with him for nearly a week in July last year, jurors at Hove Crown Court were told yesterday (February 25).

Richard Barton, prosecuting, said over a period of about six days Webber told the woman a series of “ludicrous” lies so she would stay with him.

Describing it as “kidnapping by fraud”, he said the offence was premeditated and Webber encouraged a sense of paranoia in the woman, who initially contacted him in a bid to pursue a modelling career.

He ran Dominion Photography, which Mr Barton described as a modelling agency.

Webber shot images of the woman, of Westbourne Gardens, Hove.

Mr Barton described Webber as “intelligent and plausible”, telling the woman stories which she – who he admitted was “naïve” – believed.

He told her she was going to be recruited by MI5, made her watch the BBC show Spooks – about spies – and said people were watching her.

Mr Barton said on July 10 Webber took her to the “interrogation room” of a “safe house” in Trafalgar Street, Portslade, where he blindfolded and tied her up as “training” for work with the secret service.

'Elaborate lies'

This, Mr Barton said, marked the first day of the kidnap. Mr Barton said over the next six days Webber took her from hotel to hotel in Brighton and Eastbourne, telling her a series of increasingly elaborate lies.

He said he twice stabbed at her so she suffered scratches, tried to strangle her, pushed her and lied to her boyfriend and family.

He said Webber – who told women he was a model agent and had in the past shot pictures of the “good looking” woman – dictated text messages to the then-26-year-old’s family.

These, Mr Barton said, were very abrupt and gave no clue as to her whereabouts.

Around the same time he made repeated references to a Russian killer who was “hunting them” called Efjania and told the woman if she left the hotel room where he had taken her she would be “shot in the head”, Mr Barton said.

Fake death

Mr Barton said the “naïve” woman, who suffered from anxiety and was sleep deprived, believed Webber’s lies and even wrote a goodbye letter to her family, believing what he said about the killer virus.

Referring to this, Mr Barton said: “The contents would be laughable if she did not absolutely believe it.”

Mr Barton said many times Webber would have one-sided and imaginary conversations with ‘MI5’.

Mr Barton said the pair were in woodland in Eastbourne discussing a plan to fake the woman’s death and send the photographs to Efjania when they heard police sirens.

'Am I safe?'

He said Webber, of George Williams Mews, Portslade, panicked and said he was going to walk to Beachy Head to kill himself. Police – who were hunting them – found them walking along the A259 at Friston, near Eastbourne.

Mr Barton said the woman’s first words were: “Are you police? Am I safe? Why have you not found me until now? I have not slept for five days.”

Webber denies kidnap and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The trial continues.

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