It was over a decade ago that someone new came into my life – a stalker.

At first I didn’t know that that was what he was, but I soon became uncomfortable when I saw him following me about on campus, staring at me in the refectory, and turning up at my lectures, even though he was not enrolled on the course that I taught. That went on intermittently for a couple of months and then the emails started, and eventually so did the letters.

Universities are rightly open spaces with very little security – people can come and go as they please, and that approach has also influenced how the personal details of academics are managed.

My email address, office hours and room number, for example, were at that time available online for anyone to read. All of this added to my sense that I should just try and ‘normalise’ what was happening and not make a fuss.

So initially I tried to brush all of this off and laugh about him turning up at lectures instead of getting on with his life, but there was no doubt that what was happening was odd.

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However, I had also just started to appear regularly on TV and radio and I put all of this down to becoming better known. I thought that things would eventually just return to normal, and my stalker would vanish from my life just as quickly as he had appeared.

I had the good sense to talk to colleagues and they gave me some advice about keeping hold of the emails and letters that my stalker sent and suggested that I should alert campus security.

On reflection it may have been his awareness that he was now being watched by security officers that prompted the emails and letters. Handily my stalker often included his address at the bottom of his letters – perhaps because he thought that I might write back, although I never did.

These letters were chilling.

You did not need to be a criminologist to understand from what he wrote that this was someone with mental health issues and I even made a guess that he probably had borderline personality disorder.

In other words, he couldn’t understand how his interactions with other people made them think or feel. He never tried to speak directly to me and when on one occasion very early on I had initiated a conversation he simply mumbled something that I couldn’t grasp and walked away.

It was his final letter that escalated things beyond my talking to colleagues and campus security because in it he threatened to kill me.


The Herald: Hollywood hillsHollywood hills (Image: getyy)

In fact, he was quite clear that he was going to stab me repeatedly until I was well and truly dead because he believed he was actually a well-known Hollywood actor and I had “stolen his film script”.

I called the police, and they assured me that they would visit him at the address contained in several of his letters. That I hoped would be the end of the matter.

A few weeks later, during my office hours there was a knock at my door. “Come in!” I shouted, and there standing in the doorway was my stalker.

“I’ve come to pick up my script,” he said and then added for good measure “I’ve written to you.”

My heart skipped a beat.

I quickly looked at his hands to see if he was carrying a knife – he wasn’t, and then years of experience of working with violent men in prisons kicked into action as if it was an embedded component of my DNA.

“Oh yes, I remember. Come in and take a seat. Help yourself to some coffee. My secretary has got your script and I will just have to pop over to the office and pick it up.”

My stalker moved calmly into my office and sat down in a chair. That gave me the opportunity to leave, run down the corridor and call campus security, who in turn alerted the police.

This is national stalking awareness week and I hope that sharing this personal memory might help people think about their own experiences of Fixated, Obsessive, Unwanted and Repeated behaviour by a third party.

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The acronym “FOUR” was adopted in 2019 by the College of Policing to make the main characteristics of stalking more visible to everyone. And, even though it is more common for a woman to be stalked by a man – often a rejected suitor who has become obsessional, rather than being stalked by a stranger what I experienced and how I behaved perhaps offers some practical guidance about what anyone in similar circumstances could do.

First, talk to family, friends and colleagues about what is happening to you, and then start to collect evidence about these unwanted and persistent intrusions into your life – in whatever shape they might take.

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It’s best not to try and initiate a conversation with your stalker – that was a mistake on my part, because they’re like “flames” and need the oxygen of your attention. Don’t presume that the stalker will go away of their own accord.

Call the police and report what is happening - stalking has been against the law since 2012. We may still have a long way to go in getting stalking taken seriously as a crime by the police, but the latest figures show that if charges are brought against a stalker nearly two-thirds will be convicted.

And what about my own stalker? He was subsequently arrested after his appearance in my office and was later sectioned under the provisions of the Mental Health Act. He has never attempted to contact me again.

But I also know that I was lucky and that his psychotic attempt to collect his imaginary script might all too easily have descended into something that really would have made the plot of a crime thriller.

If you are worried about someone stalking you contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300