He harasses me on the phone, sends me goods I don't want, but the police can't do anything

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The Independent Online
Every time Fiona Watts hears a knock on the door her palms start sweating and she panics. Will it be a taxi? Or a pizza? Or perhaps it will just be the postman, with more junk mail bearing her name.

Either of those things might seem trivial by itself, but Ms Watts has been stalked "by third party" for three years, in a campaign comprising hundreds of nuisance telephone calls, unwanted taxi and takeaway orders, junk mail and having her number published in small advertisements.

"I've kept thinking that at some point he'll get bored, but now he seems to be getting worse. It's affected my job and everything - and he's totally within the law," Ms Watts said.

Despite the distress and inconvenience she has suffered, under existing law, Ms Watts is powerless to do anything about it. And according to Labour's spokeswoman on women's issues, Janet Anderson, whose own anti-stalking Bill was blocked last year, the Government's proposed legislation will enable such forms of harassment to continue.

Ms Watts, an educational programme organiser from Manchester, claims she has suffered the "third-party" harassment since 1993, when she and a flatmate fell out with the man, who cannot be named for legal reasons. At first, she says, he would telephone and hang up. Assuming that he would get bored, at first they did not act.

Then unordered taxis began arriving at the door; once six arrived within 20 minutes. The drivers, she said, were "not happy" to find that they had been called out for nothing.

"They take it out on me. I get a tirade of abuse sometimes. I've now got a code with the local taxi firms but he's using ones further afield. I can't warn every single taxi firm," Ms Watts said.

Along with the taxis came the unsolicited takeaway food. Sometimes restaurants called back to check the order, but most of the time, Ms Watts said, she was again left arguing at the door.

As the telephone calls continued, she enlisted the help of BT's nuisance call bureau. Unfortunately for Ms Watts, her caller tended to call from multi-extension company lines, often operated by non-BT companies, making the calls difficult to trace. The caller, she claims, also worked casually, and has moved companies several times.

The various forms of harassment continued until this year. Then last month Ms Watts' number began appearing in a classified advertisement in the Manchester Evening News, offering a room for rent. The bill, in her flatmate's name, was sent to her address.

The newspaper pulled the advertisement when it became aware of the circumstances. But a spokeswoman said that the sheer weight of advertisements meant that they were often impossible to check out. It has now logged Ms Watts' telephone number to prevent it appearing again.

Ms Watts' latest ordeal has been junk mail. Her harasser fills out coupons in newspapers and she has been receiving "heaps" of junk mail from roof tilers, mobile phone companies, but most usually concerning life insurance.

"If we don't answer them often the company will follow up with phone calls - this means he gets other people to do the harassing for him. But we haven't changed our number because there would be no point and I don't want to leave my home." Ms Watts is now hoping that the original coupons, many of which have been sent to her, will provide the breakthrough she needs. But she believes the unwanted attention is not taken seriously by police as it is not conventional stalking.

"But this has affected me, very much. The posties are delivering stuff that won't fit through the door. When there are knocks on the door my heart sinks, when the phone goes, when taxis pull up outside my palms start sweating and I panic. My sleeping pattern is a complete disaster."

According to Ms Anderson the Government's proposed legislation appears to contain no definition of stalking, which leaves victims like Ms Watts no remedy apart from expensive injunctions.

Her original anti-stalking Bill, drawn up with the aid of anti-harassment lawyers contained a catch-all definition which would have made the unwanted attention illegal. It specified someone who "gives unwarranted or unsolicited material at a place where another person lives, works or regularly visits" and acts which are "likely to cause that other person to feel harassed".

"The Government said at that time that he thought the definition was too wide ... but as this case shows, any anti-stalking definition has to be fairly wide," Ms Anderson said yesterday. She added that as with Ms Watts' case, the burden of proof fell too heavily on stalking victims.

A spokeswoman for law firm Lawson-Cruttenden, which specialises in harassment cases, said there were many similar cases that were likely to slip through the legislative net. It helped draw up Labour's Bill and had proposed a definition which it believed was workable. "We're very keen to get this sorted as at the moment because people are suffering," she said.

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