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'It took my confidence': woman from Essex speaks about stalking ordeal

Denise Churchman (left) Robert Preece (right) Credit: ITV News Anglia

A woman from Essex has spoken out about how being stalked stole her confidence.

Denise Churchman spoke to ITV News Anglia about her relationship with her stalker Robert Preece, who has been jailed for 12 years.

The mother of two, says what started out as a couple of dates with a builder who worked at her house, turned into a nightmare.

Denise says she didn't initially recognise the signs of stalking, and in the beginning she described Preece as “very caring, would do anything for me, full of charm".

"It all started ok, but then gradually he started getting very intense and obsessive. It was constant phone calls, texts, voicemails, he even found out where I worked."

– Denise Churchman

Denise says she tried to end her relationship with Preece after finding out that he had tried to use a locksmith to gain access to her house while she was away. On one occasion she was woken up in the middle of the night to see him standing in her bedroom.

I got woken up in the middle of the night and heard a noise, and I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs, and then all of a sudden he appeared in my bedroom, he’d broken into my house

– Denise Churchman
A new campaign is being launched to combat stalking in Essex Credit: ITV News Anglia

A new campaign is now being launched in Essex to help combat stalking. The police say they want to help people to recognise the signs of the crime, and to give victims, like Denise, better support.

Stalking is a really complex crime, it’s a set of complex behaviours, so people may not firstly realise that they are being stalked. It can be fixated behaviour, obsessive behaviour, and it can be repetitive.

– Jane Gardner, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, and Chair of the Southend, Essex and Thurrock Domestic Abuse Board (SETDAB)

Cases of stalking have soared in Essex and it’s now one of the police’s top priorities.

  • In 2018 there were 656 stalking offences in Essex
  • In 2017 there were 207

It is about training our officers, it is about enforcement , it is about support, and that’s why we are making the investment now.

– Jane Gardner, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, and Chair of the Southend, Essex and Thurrock Domestic Abuse Board (SETDAB)

Denise welcomed the new campaign, hoping that the police will do more to support other victims of stalking.

Denise told ITV News Anglia that she hopes the police will provide better support for stalking victims Credit: ITV News Anglia

Despite Preece being jailed, Denise says she still struggles with what happened.

I’m trying to move on but it’s knocked my confidence, I’m always looking over my shoulder even though I know he’s I prison. It’s going to be a long time before I’m ever going to feel comfortable on my own again.

– Denise Churchman

She urges anyone who thinks they may be experiencing stalking, or similar forms of abuse, to reach out to the Pathways Charity.

  • Watch the full report by ITV Anglia's Rob Setchell: