UK stalking expert to advise Hollywood

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The Independent Online

Hollywood studio chiefs have recruited Britain's leading expert on stalking to help them protect US stars who want to work in the UK.

Hollywood studio chiefs have recruited Britain's leading expert on stalking to help them protect US stars who want to work in the UK.

Detective Inspector Hamish Brown, from the Metropolitan Serious Crime Group, was last week flown out to Beverley Hills, California, to meet film executives from Warner Brothers and Fox Entertainment, FBI officers and members of Congress. He briefed them on the law in the UK, the extent of the problem and the techniques being developed to combat stalking - the fastest growing crime in Britain.

Celebrity stalking is a major problem in the US and the major studios are worried that the influx of American actors into the UK will lead to a corresponding increase in the crime. In recent years, a veritable A-list of Hollywood's finest has been coming to work in Britain, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Kathleen Turner.

With more celebrities travelling to, or coming to live in, Britain, DI Brown says their security guards, agents and the studios for which they work all want to ensure they are properly protected. "These cases are not as widespread as domestic stalking, but they are just as serious," he said.

Hollywood celebrities are photographed, followed, idolised and adored. Yet for some fans, it is not enough to hover around their public lives. They want to have them for themselves. Since 1994, Madonna has suffered two intruders at her Hollywood Hills home. The first, Todd Michael Lawrence, was arrested after climbing the walls of her mansion. The second, 38-year-old Robert Hoskins, was shot and injured by security staff during a third attempt to enter the grounds after leaving her notes and threatening her life.

Model and actress Elle Macpherson also endured months of threats by a fan. Michael Mischler pleaded guilty to breaking and entering Macpherson's home, in addition to extortion. He apparently had nude photos of her which he threatened to publish on the internet if she refused to pay him some $60,000. Anti-stalking laws were first adopted in California in 1990, with other states following shortly after. In 1996, stalking became an offence under federal law - under the US definition, stalking can also include telephone contact and, now, "cyber-stalking" via e-mails; offences punishable by probation, fines or imprisonment. Stalking is an occupational hazard from which no star is immune. Producer and director Steven Spielberg became the target of stalker Jonathan Norman. In 1998, Norman was arrested outside the director's house, armed with a knife. He said he was going to rape Spielberg and kill his family.

Adam Siegler, a partner at US law firm Siegler & Sexton, which has dealt with cases involving stars harassed by fans, says entertainers are particularly vulnerable to stalking because their professional existence depends on public exposure in the media, and direct communication with fans.

"Many studios are reluctant to admit to the problem publicly," he said. "But a lot of celebrities are from the UK or will be travelling there, so it is important to have an understanding of the British laws. The general feeling is that the UK is a safe place, but people want to be reassured."

Researchers at Leicester University earlier revealed that some women have been stalked for more than 30 years and are now to carry out the first study in celebrity stalking.

Lorraine Sheridan, who was involved in the earlier study, is working with a criminal profiler to draw up a picture of the type of people who become obsessed with celebrities. Agents have already sent her material, such as letters and items of clothing given to their clients by stalkers, and Ms Sheridan also intends to interview celebrity victims as part of the research project.

Initial findings have already identified two types of celebrity stalkers; those who try to prove they have something in common with their victim, and a second type who is more subtle but more dangerous.

"Celebrity stalkers are very different from those who pursue ordinary people," she said. "Some try to establish a common link between themselves and the celebrity they are pursuing. If they are writing to a footballer, they will go into great detail about their sporting prowess, however trivial. If the star doesn't respond, they then make threats.

"But in the history of celebrity stalking, there's never been a killing after a death threat. The most dangerous types are those who do not write letters or make threats. Their actions are more subtle but ultimately more deadly."

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