Academic 'sent neighbours obscene hate-mail'

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A university academic who nicknamed himself "The Nerd" brought terror to a Yorkshire village with a hate campaign against several families that lasted for 12 years, a court was told yesterday.

Dr James Forster, 67, a recently retired tutor at the Open University, was the unlikely figure behind acts of vandalism and a hate-mail campaign which was executed without an obvious motive but cast a shadow over Manfield in North Yorkshire, a jury at Teesside Crown Court was told.

The technology expert allegedly drove his elderly neighbour, Molly Christian, from her home with his persistent harrassment. She moved out after three years of anonymous attacks when, in a letter signed "The Nerd", Dr Forster threatened to put a bomb down her chimney, the court was told.

Mrs Christian, 88, who arrived at court in a wheelchair, said: "After a little while strange things began to happen. My window got scratched, conifer trees disappeared out of the garden, a bird box went. I had glue in my locks and I couldn't get in when I came back one night."

In 1988, Dr Forster turned his attentions to his new neighbours, the Kellett family. Within weeks, the court was told, he repeatedly sent pornography to their teenage daughter and daubed their home with paint. He allegedly threw acid over the family car and tipped a man off to burgle the home while the Kelletts were away.

Mr Michael O'Neill, for the prosecution, said: "All the while the Kelletts were living at Manfield, the succession of unpleasant letters was received which suggested ... that their daughter Joanne, a respected young lady, was a prostitute."

One item of mail, a calling card, had an image of a scantily clad woman with the message: "A special Christmas greeting from the lady who loves to give a beating", Mr O'Neill said.

The prosecution alleged that he sent out anonymous letters claiming that another neighbour, Eric Collin, was "nosy and officious", was spreading malicious gossip, and was tipping off police about fabricated driving offences. Police who raided Dr Forster's house in 1999 were said to have found a list of names that matched the people who were sent these letters. Shortly before his arrest in 1999, he sent letters to the Manfield parish clerk, Rhona Wayne, in which he is said to have complained that she did not live locally and threatened to vandalise her car. He also sent a pornographic magazine to her 13-year-old daughter, Mr O'Neill said.

The prosecutor told the jury: "Manfield is a small village and over that 12-year period there have been some curious goings on. People have been receiving threats, obscene notes. Property has been damaged.

"The man behind this curious campaign is Dr Forster, the defendant, who has for his own reasons, whatever they may be, chosen to harass, bring pressure on, be difficult with, several neighbours in Manfield."

Dr Forster denies 11 charges, including three of threatening to destroy or damage property, three of damaging property, three of sending indecent or obscene mail, one of incitement to commit burglary, and one of putting a person in fear of violence. The case continues.