The Worst of Times: Stalked by a stranger, for six years: Celia Brayfield talks to Danny Danziger

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I came home from a dinner party at about one o'clock in the morning and I've always felt as if the conversation at the party conjured the whole thing up: we'd had a very impassioned discussion about rape . . . I was reading in bed when I became aware that there was somebody - a man - outside the bedroom window.

I telephoned the police, who found nothing, but my flat was so small that he would probably have overheard the call and run off.

He turned up again about a week later. In fact, he came back week after week, always in the small hours of the morning. It was a real reign of terror.

At this time I was living with my boyfriend, but he had a job in Southampton and wasn't there during the week, so I was on my own in the basement flat.

One beautiful summer evening, I went around to some neighbours for a drink, and came back to find that he had broken into the flat. He had taken the sheets off the bed, my underwear out of the drawer, and my briefcase, which had my entire life in it. He had my address book, my driving licence - everything.

Once he had my telephone number, he began to ring up. He was clearly crazy: his monologues varied from the straightforwardly obscene to the completely insane.

He wrote letters describing himself as Brother Moon and me as Sister Sun, and signed himself 'Richard II'. He wrote about how we had made love all night, pages of disconnected words and fragments of sentences that made no sense whatsoever.

I rang the police each time he came to the flat, but having them turn up to interview me again and again was almost as terrifying and certainly as distasteful. The police had trouble taking my problem seriously. They seemed to think I should be grateful that I had an admirer. This was the late Seventies, and people didn't have the caring, enlightened attitudes they do now.

One senior detective in particular appeared to be actually enjoying the situation. I think he found the idea of the screaming blonde in the basement rather exciting. He was forever asking me to repeat salacious details, and his whole attitude was sniggering.

Around that time, I used to have comforting fantasies of killing every man I saw on the street, machine-gunning them down.

My boyfriend was devastated by what was happening. We both agreed that he shouldn't give up his job for my sake, but at the same time the events created an irresolvable tension between us.

First, I completely switched off sexually. This coincided with a long period where I tried to unsex myself. I look at the photographs sometimes: I changed from an attractive young woman, all smiley and made-up, into a rather grim, unfeminine, mannish- looking person. I wore a lot of men's clothes, and I had this wary, flinching look on my face.

The whole thing went on for six years.

Nevertheless, I was determined that just because some nutcase had fixed on me to persecute, I should not have to lose my home. Why should I move? I had lived there seven years, and my friends lived locally.

When I changed my telephone number, there were no more calls. He started to change his pattern: only occasional letters would arrive. But I used to take the train to see my mother every Sunday, and after a while I realised he was following me.

One Saturday, I went to the National Portrait Gallery. I spent the morning there, and afterwards I bought a postcard. I hesitated between a card of two Elizabethan ladies with their babies and one of a skating vicar, and eventually chose the Elizabethan ladies. Next morning, through the letterbox, came the postcard of the vicar, with a load of loony stuff on the back, some of which referred to him having gone to the gallery with me.

That was very frightening: he had been watching me closely enough to see which postcard I had nearly bought . . .

One night I came home late after a film. I came into the flat very quietly, and didn't put any lights on - by now I had a repertoire of wariness. When I went into the bathroom, I got the most appalling shock: he was right outside the window, about four inches away from my face.

And suddenly, this volcano of rage went off inside me. I just thought: 'I don't care what happens, I've got to stop this.' I took a kitchen knife and charged out of the back door. He ran up the street, and I chased after him, calling for help. The police turned up - and arrested me for having an offensive weapon.

After I explained what was going on, a young policeman patrolling the river embankment stopped somebody who was running. They took me down to the river, where I identified him and made a statement.

I slept well that night.

The next day when I rang the police station, they said the man had come up before the magistrates earlier that morning - and had been bound over to keep the peace for a year.

'But this man has been harassing me for years,' I said. 'He has destroyed my life, and you've let him go]' They hadn't even read out my statement in court.

This man had told them I was his girlfriend, and that I had been giving him a hard time. And they believed his every word] In court, they treated him as someone who had got a bit overwrought over a domestic dispute.

Three hundred and sixty-six days later - I counted - he was back. I went into the local sweetshop, and there he was, waiting for me outside.

I rang the police, and went through the whole story again. There was no record of the arrest, no record of the binding over, no record of any of it. By that time I was pregnant, and he must have inferred that there was another man around because he didn't reappear. Within about six months I moved, and that was the last I saw of him.

Why me? I often ask why it happened, but I have no answers. I won't ever be the complete, loving person that I was before. There will always be a residual anger, rage even.

Just pray it never happens to you.

'White Ice' is Celia Brayfield's latest novel, published by Penguin.

(Photograph omitted)

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