A police and crime commissioner has told how she nearly gave up her job after being harassed by an “obsessive stalker” but has vowed to use the experience to help protect other victims.
Conservative politician Katy Bourne, who holds the elected role in Sussex, is calling on her colleagues around the country to make sure their forces are properly investigating stalking and harassment as well as helping victims get the support and protection they need.
Mrs Bourne spoke about her experience in an interview with Press Association ahead of a summit on stalking she is hosting in Parliament on Wednesday, which will be attended by police chiefs, victims and charity workers.
She first met Matthew Taylor at a hustings when he put himself forward as an unofficial rival candidate for the Sussex police and crime commissioner elections in 2012.
She was elected in November that year and was since re-elected in 2016.
He started to focus on people around me, people in my office and my chief executive, making allegations that were quite upsetting
After she was appointed to the post, Mr Taylor, who lives in Brighton, assigned himself the role of the “shadow” police and crime commissioner with a website in a bid to hold her to account.
But Mrs Bourne said his articles and videos soon became personal, rather than focused on her role in the public eye.
Among evidence collected by Mrs Bourne’s staff and submitted in court, allegations made against Mr Taylor included that he branded her a paedophile, a drug dealer, a prostitute, a Nazi sympathiser and being responsible for murder.
Mrs Bourne said: “He initially started as a sort of warrior for justice, a keyboard warrior.
“It became very obsessive and quite intense. For about three years I sort of ignored it.
“I was elected and in the public eye. You do get a lot of attention, much of it is quite negative.
“But it started to get quite personal, he started to focus on people around me, people in my office and my chief executive, making allegations that were quite upsetting.”
She said the “wake-up call” was when he “stepped out from behind the keyboard” and into the “physical world”.
In July 2016 she was speaking at a private event in an East Grinstead pub. Without her knowing, he secretly filmed her from the back of the room, posting the video online the next day.
In September that year a supporter of his arrived at a charity abseil in Peacehaven that she was taking part in, telling people he was there as an observer on behalf of Mr Taylor to film the event.
The video posted online included a close-up of the harness she was due to wear for the 110ft descent.
Mrs Bourne said: “That really for me hit home that you’re not safe, potentially.”
The allegations were referred by Sussex Police to neighbouring force Surrey but Mrs Bourne said: “The criminal route was fruitless because the Crown Prosecution Service let me down and would not prosecute because they said there was not enough evidence.
“I had five years of evidence, despite all that it wasn’t enough. It just shows agencies don’t understand the severity.
“Fortunately the civil route was more successful.”
A civil injunction was granted at the Central London County Court in April 2017 after an application for protection from harassment. The judgment prohibits Matthew Taylor from going near Mrs Bourne or her chief executive Mark Streater. He was ordered not to comment about them online, to post videos or to enlist the help of others to do so on his behalf.
I think the legislation is strong but I think the enforcement is where it is lacking
He was ordered to pay £20,000 in court costs, according to court records.
In October last year he was found to be in contempt after breaching the order and was handed a suspended four month prison term.
Mrs Bourne said she regrets not asking the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a victims’ right to review – which must be requested within three months of the decision not to pursue criminal charges.
She said: “At the time I was at the end of my tether, I’d had enough and I just wanted it to stop. The last thing I wanted to do was go through it all over again.
“Now looking back on it I wish I had asked them to review. But I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.”
She urged other victims to persist and said it was unfair members of the public were faced with a costly civil process in the absence of a criminal prosecution.
Mrs Bourne added: “You learn what it’s like to be a victim – the mental anguish, the living in a state of permanent and heightened anxiety.
“Even for me, I pride myself on being professional and keeping everything together, I was really struggling.”
She considered stepping down from her role but, encouraged by her son, she decided to use the experience to call for change and speak publicly about the ordeal.
Police and crime commissioners can ask for independent inspections to be carried out but Mrs Bourne says she is the first to have done so.
She said: “This is an opportunity for all of us to actually start to drive some change.
“I think the legislation is strong but I think the enforcement is where it is lacking.
“This is such an important issue for victims of this types of crime. We have a responsibility to victims of crimes.”