Stalker guilty of harassing newsreader for 12 years

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A stalker who plagued the newsreader Julia Somerville for 12 years was convicted of harassing her yesterday.

Ms Somerville gave evidence as David Hughes, 47, who had taken to calling her "precious Mrs Hughes", sat in the dock at Highbury Corner magistrates' court, London. He had sent the newsreader 390 obscene letters and moved close to her home to indulge an obsession that began in 1985 after a visit to BBC Television Centre. Hughes was at the centre to present ideas for programmes and during a lunch break thought he overhead four women linking his name to Ms Somerville.

After she separated from her husband in 1990 he began writing to her, at first from Cheshire. In 1999 he moved to London and spent two days in Finsbury Park before moving to Muswell Hill, north London, near to Ms Somerville's home. He claimed the move was a coincidence but in previous letters he had mentioned the area and in one, dated 1996, he described how he would "stand erected on Muswell Hill".

As his obsession grew, Hughes began sending the letters, most to the ITN studios, more frequently, posting 35 between January and April this year. Johannah Cutts, prosecuting, told the court: "Most of the letters were obscene and contained fantasies on the sender's part but were never going to be true. There was a degree of familiarity in the letters but they became increasingly persistent that the sender and Miss Somerville should meet up."

They only came face to face when Ms Somerville gave evidence yesterday. "It was peculiar and disturbing to receive things like Easter Day cards and St Valentine's cards. I felt extremely disturbed and felt he was capable of transferring his wishes into actions," she said.

Hughes, of Enfield, told the court he admitted writing the letters but denied they amounted to harassment against Ms Somerville. He accepted they were "bawdy" and contained double entendres but said he did not think Ms Somerville would be offended.

Hughes was arrested at a hotel in Muswell Hill on May 23. A handwriting expert matched the letters to a sample of his handwriting. District Judge John Perkins found Hughes guilty of one charge under Section 2 of the Harassment Act. He made an interim order under Section 38 of the Mental Health Act. Sentencing was adjourned until September 20.