A trial at the Central London County Court has been told that John Masterson, 56, a man with a history of violence and a long criminal record, told his psychiatrist: "I go to sleep at night and think about killing her." For 10 years he had waged an "obsessed" campaign against the MP, bombarding her with letters, making aggressive phone calls and repeatedly turning up at her constituency surgery and the House of Commons, often in a "menacing" mood.
Mr Masterson is suing the Metropolitan Police for wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution. After Ms Harman first learnt of the threats, he was held for five weeks before the case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. He claims he was arrested only after Ms Harman put pressure on the police.
The trial has been told that he and a sympathiser sent "hundreds and hundreds" of letters alleging that Ms Harman was corrupt to the Law Society, the European Commission, and to her colleagues, including Neil Kinnock.
Ms Harman said yesterday: "It was an obsession that had taken hold of his life, and I didn't want it to take over mine." She told the sixth day of the trial how, during her early years as a campaigning solicitor at the National Council for Civil Liberties, she had taken on Mr Masterson's High Court case against the Home Office and lost. She said he had become obsessed with her and began his campaign of harassment because he felt she had "betrayed" him.
In July 1989 Ms Harman received a phone call from Dr Jane Marshall, of the Maudsley Hospital, in London, revealing that Mr Masterson had fantasised about killing her.
Ms Harman's voice shook as she explained how the psychiatrist had breached patient confidentiality because she took the threats seriously.
"I was frightened and it was horrible. It was horrible but I was calm. I had to get on with things. I had three children and a very responsible job."
Ms Harman immediately spoke to the police, and Detective Inspector Leonard Harper came to her home. "That was a great relief to me. I had had 10 years of harassment, and then it was out of my hands." Despite his psychiatrist's insistence that Mr Masterson did not present an immediate danger and there was insufficient evidence of a threat to kill, he was arrested a few days later and charged.
Ms Harman flatly denied influencing Det Insp Harper. She also denied putting pressure on the psychiatrist to hand over Mr Masterson's medical notes.
John Beggs, for the police, told the court that the officer had 25 years of "impeccable service" behind him and was "not the sort of man to bow to pressure from anyone, MP or otherwise".
"Mr Masterson was a significant risk to Harriet Harman, and the police had a duty to protect her. Had Harriet Harman been injured by this man, you can just imagine the outcry there would have been nationally."
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