Phenomenon of stalking exes brought to light by Suzanne Pilley tragedy

Suzanne Pilley was murdered by ex lover David Gilroy
Suzanne Pilley was murdered by ex lover David Gilroy
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IT WAS supposed to be all over. When Suzanne Pilley told David Gilroy their relationship had finally come to an end, it should have been time for both to just move on.

Of course, what happened then is now a tragic chapter in Edinburgh’s criminal history.

Suzanne Pilley pictured with a friend

Suzanne Pilley pictured with a friend

In the month before she went missing, married Gilroy, 49, bombarded bookkeeper Ms Pilley with more than 400 text messages.

He turned up unexpectedly at her flat. And at one point, a neighbour told the court how a man fitting Gilroy’s description was prowling around outside her home.

Far from taking “no” for an answer, twisted Gilroy seemed to take rejection as an invitation to relentlessly stalk and hound his ex-lover.

Tragically, it was a real-life fatal attraction that would have the most heart-breaking conclusion imaginable.

David Gilroy: was found guilty of murder. Picture: Ian Georgeson

David Gilroy: was found guilty of murder. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Now behind bars for Ms Pilley’s murder, Gilroy will be sentenced on April 18 – by sheer chance the same day Justice Secretary Kenny McAskill will officially launch National Stalking Awareness Day at the Scottish Parliament, an event aimed at promoting zero tolerance of stalking.

Of course, most break-ups do not end in anything like the tragedy that unfolded for Suzanne and her grieving family. Yet it’s estimated that there are more than 120,000 stalking incidents in the UK each year.

The Network for Surviving Stalking (NSS) believes ex-partner harassment – perpetrated by the likes of Gilroy – is the most prevalent type, in around 50 per cent of cases.

Clearly it’s far from normal behaviour. So what exactly is the root of the problem? What goes on in the minds of some that prevents them from simply accepting that a relationship is over?

And why do they then resort to desperate – sometimes violent – measures to try and win their partner back?

According to Beverley Stone, a relationship psychologist and author of Stay or Leave? Six Steps to Resolving Your Relationship Indecision, it is love that is to blame.

“It’s simply because they’re still in love. They can’t understand their partner’s feelings have changed and they’re convinced they can change their mind,” she says.

Pleading phone calls can follow, and “accidentally” turning up at the same places can start.

They might even try and involve other parties. “Getting friends to talk to you and try to persuade you to change your mind isn’t uncommon,” warns Stone, adding that they’re working on the theory your friends will make you realise that breaking up was a mistake.

Endless texts and phone calls, not necessarily containing obvious threats – Gilroy’s apparent mode of attack – are another typical warning sign of an ex-partner who’s failed to cope with romantic rejection.

While it’s a giant leap between annoying, clingy behaviour to outright violence, according to psychologist Ann Moulds, who founded Action Scotland Against Stalking after being hounded by a stalker who’d send her vile, sexually explicit material through the post, ignoring their behaviour could be fatal. “Some of the most dangerous stalkers never actually issue an overt threat,” she says. “You can imagine them saying ‘but all I did was send her flowers or a letter, there was nothing threatening’, but this can be someone who has a total fixation on another.

“It’s gender-based violence, it’s cultural attitudes towards women. Think of fathers giving their daughter away to another man – possession,” she adds.“But there are also cases where it’s a personality disorder. People who simply can’t take rejection, there’s jealousy and they need to have power.”

Hoping they will just give up and go away can be a fatal mistake. Lynsey Methven, 31, was hounded by her ex, 43-year-old builder Frank Moore, after she ended their relationship in December 2010.

Some phone messages were threatening, others desperate protestations of love.

Ms Methven and her new boyfriend, chef Stewart Taylor, 33, did not report his behaviour to the police. Instead, they hoped he’d eventually just go away.

Moore didn’t go away. He returned to Ms Methven’s flat in the Grange in January last year, beat Mr Taylor, leaving him dead, and torched the property, leaving his ex-girlfriend badly injured.

According to Edinburgh-based chartered psychologist Ben Williams, there are certain characteristic traits that can have links to “stalking” behaviour.

“First of all there’s this egocentricity of certain people. Their rules seem to be ‘I am right, you said you loved me’. They are not ready to change their minds.

“Others can’t appreciate how other people feel, they are detached. They are not very empathetic to others.

“Some people are prone to emotional fixations. They are so entangled with a boyfriend or girlfriend they can’t let them go. They play the same records over and over again because it reminds them of when they first met. They go to the same places they used to go together, the same holidays.

“Even when they move on into a new relationship or even marriage, they will hear a record and go into a depressed state because it reminds them of that person.”

A broken relationship sparks a kind of mourning process, he adds. “There is shock, disbelief, rage and perhaps thoughts of revenge, fantasy – ‘they’ll come back to me’ stage – depression, guilt and cold realisation that it’s over.

“The problem is when some people get fixed at a point in that process – and if it’s the rage stage, it can be when things turn bad.”

Most recent Scottish stalking and harassment statistics available, from last year, show that five per cent of men and six per cent of women have experienced stalking and harassment.

The report from Scotland’s chief statistician also showed younger age groups are more likely than older to be victims – 11 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds reported at least one form of stalking and harassment in the previous 12 months, compared with two per cent of those aged 60 and over.

The majority – 62 per cent – of those who experienced stalking and harassment knew the offender, 12 per cent had seen them before but did not know them, while 23 per cent did not know them at all.

Scotland is ahead of England in dealing with stalking and harassment cases. A specific offence of stalking was created in December 2010, punishable by up to five years in jail.

More than 400 people were prosecuted in the first year.

Earlier this month, the sheriff court in Lithlithgow heard how stalker Lavakumar Ramathasan, 29, terrorised his ex-girlfriend, Simmy Panesar. Every day he waited for her at Linlithgow train station, sitting next to her and constantly pestering her as she travelled to Stirling University.

He also bombarded her with telephone calls on a daily basis. Ms Panesar eventually called police and Ramathasan, who now lives in London, was arrested.

He appeared in court after earlier having pleaded guilty to engaging in a course of conduct which caused her fear and alarm.

However, according to Ann Moulds, it’s virtually impossible to assess the full extent of stalking and harassment as many cases go unreported.

“It can be very difficult to go to the police about someone who you’ve had a relationship with or, in Suzanne Pilley’s case, who you work beside.

“Stalkers display obsessive, fixated or jealous behaviour and it’s important to act because you don’t know where it could lead – perhaps to violence, rape or murder,” she adds.

“We know people still don’t recognise stalking behaviour even when it’s happening to them,” says Network for Surviving Stalking chief executive Alexis Bowater.

“Even though we may feel uncomfortable with someone’s obsessive behaviour – all too often we put up with it.

“We think stalkers are sinister figures – like in films. In reality, stalkers can be ex-partners, friends or people you know.”

She says more than one million women and 900,000 men report being stalked in the UK every year. But 77 per cent of stalking victims don’t report the situation until more than 100 incidents have occurred – which could put lives at risk.

She advises erring on the side of caution and listening to our own alarm bells: “So often we don’t trust our own instinct,” she adds.

“People make us feel uncomfortable but we’ve been conditioned to ignore it – laugh it off, hope the problem goes away.”

• Stalking victims can contact police directly, or a complaint can be made through a third party at www.lbp.police.uk/takecontrol/index.asp. For advice and support, contact Network for Surviving Stalking at www.nss.org.uk/scotland and Action Scotland Against Stalking, www.scotlandagainst stalking.com