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Shocking facts of stalking
It is the stuff that horror films are made of – perhaps a jilted ex who cannot let go or a distant stranger who develops an unwavering affection for a bar worker they hardly know.
But stalking is a very real threat and keeps Brighton-based Sanctuary Investigations busy.
At a free course put on by the company, reporter Kimberly Middleton learnt some startling facts about the extent of the problem.
At least one person in this room will be stalked in the next month.”
The 13 people sat in Hove Town Hall on a Saturday morning range in age from 15 to 37, from pretty teenagers to stocky men.
The stark warning comes from Nick Button, director of stalker specialists Sanctuary Investigations, who put on the free personal safety and self defence course.
“Stalkers are not as you may imagine, a man dressed in black, carrying a knife and hiding in a bush,” warns the former bodyguard.
“There is no-one here who hasn’t been in a situation where you are seconds away from being wounded or hit.”
Mr Button’s view of the dangers the world around us holds is scary. But he hopes to teach simple techniques – including what he calls the warrior spirit – to make defence a basic instinct.
“If someone says they’re going to kill you, you don’t get a chance to say ‘I’m sorry but I feel a bit violated right now, I’m really uncomfortable that you’re in my personal space’.
“It is all about safety – mainly avoiding the situation in the first place.”
According to the Network for Surviving Stalking, more than 1.2 million women – 8% of the female population – and 900,000 men – 6% of the male population – are stalked every year.
Research unearthed by Mr Button shows 76% of women murdered by their ex-partners were stalked in the lead up to their death.
Figures show 67% of stalkers are male, 38% are ex partners and 21% are acquaintances. Just 9.5% are strangers.
According to the National Stalking Training Academy (UK), victims of stalking experience between 50 and 100 incidents before they decide to call the police.
Brighton trainee GP Alison Hewitt and her family suffered a horrendous ordeal at the hands of her ex-fiancé, Al Amin Dhalla.
Miss Hewitt, 36, thought she had found her future husband through an exclusive dating agency.
But love-struck city high-flyer Dhalla, 43, was jailed after stalking Miss Hewitt, armed with a crossbow, and also setting fire to her family’s home.
A police manhunt led them to catch Dhalla, disguised as a doctor, prowling the corridors of Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath where Miss Hewitt worked.
After Canadian national Dhalla was found guilty in April last year, Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Mears, of Thames Valley Police, said: “We could very easily have been dealing with up to three murders.
“This horrific case clearly demonstrates the serious threat that stalking presents and how rapidly and dangerously it can escalate.”
Mr Button’s team consists of security specialists, harassment lawyers, psychologists who carry out psychological profiling, electronic specialists who debug computers and mobile phones, a male and female bodyguard team, an investigations and surveillance team who are all former senior police officers, personal safety and self defence trainers, a victim support team and a specialist treatment programme for perpetrators of harassment.
He says he cannot reveal the exact detail of their work, but adds: “Look at the TV programme CSI – what we do is pretty similar to that.
“Harassment is behaviour that is intended and repeated by the perpetrator and unwanted by the victim.
“With new laws to protect people from stalking and harassment, it is important that such cases are dealt with assertively and as soon as possible.
“If you’re being stalked you will normally know the person who is coming. The minority are people you don’t know.”
One of the women on the course, 25-year-old Anna*, has had a couple of obsessive admirers who don’t take no for an answer.
The barmaid has also been pulled across the bar by her key chain by an unwanted admirer.
She said: “They are really thick skinned people who just don’t listen, and sometimes I just don’t know how to say ‘I don’t want to know you’.
“They get way too close and it’s always a bit scary.”
Mr Button said: “When people are drunk part of their brain, the social restraint system, becomes inhibited.
“But your response has to be in proportion, reasonable in the circumstances.”
Friends Sarah*, Alison* and Laura* are all 17 or 18. As well as being targeted by other girls and ex-boyfriends on Facebook, they have also been in difficult situations with older men who have approached them on the streets.
Sarah said: “One of my friends was under the pier going to the toilet.
“There was a man in a suit we had met in a bar earlier in the evening who spotted us. He came over and tried to drag my friend away.”
Alison said: “I was on the bus and this guy, who was quite a bit older, was trying to take a picture of me. It was really intimidating.
“I was with my boyfriend but he is quite small and without knowing specific techniques I don’t know if we would be able to defend ourselves.
“I have an ex-boyfriend who sends me messages on Facebook every day being really abusive.
“Ex-boyfriends are the biggest problem. They can see everything you are doing on Facebook.”
Laura said: “Once I was walking up the road to the bus stop with my friend and there were three men also walking along.
“They weren’t drunk but they were calling us over and asking us to go for a drink with them.
“One of them, a dark man, was really serious and being aggressive. They followed us and kept asking us to go with them.”
The teenagers also recounted tales of men repeatedly driving around the block, relentlessly trying to get the girls into cars with them.
Six foot tall, 16-stone Dan* would not be an obvious victim of stalking or harassment.
But sitting in the wrong seat on the train to work one morning made him the subject of another passenger’s torrent of abuse.
“He was an absolute stranger,” explained the bearded 36-year-old.
“We were on the same train every day and one morning he took exception to me sitting next to him.
“He was verbally aggressive and quite personal. I managed to diffuse the situation before it got physical.
'Everyone is vulnerable'
“But if he had attacked me I wouldn’t have known what to do. I realised I had gone through my life not having to defend myself.
“It happened again and I got a police harassment warning. Being here alongside young girls makes you realise that everyone is vulnerable.”
If you are a victim of stalking or harassment call Sussex Police on 101. In an emergency dial 999.
* Names have been changed to protect their identities.
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