The man who was the target of Britain's worst stalker

Over four years Dr Jan Falkowski was bombarded with texts, accused of rape, and his fiancée was told she would be killed at the altar. This is his story

Gerard Gilbert@GerardVGilbert
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:22

The date was 6 September 2003, and Dr Jan Falkowski, a leading London psychiatrist, was due to marry his fiancée, Debbie Pemberton, at a ceremony in Poole, Dorset.

The reception had been booked at a local hotel but, strangely, none of their friends and relatives had been invited. The only people in attendance were undercover police, trying to bring an end to Britain's worst case of stalking.

But the fake wedding turned out to be just one twist in a four-year nightmare for the public school-educated Dr Falkowski, who at one stage was even sent for trial at the Old Bailey on a charge of raping his stalker. The story has now been turned into a TV drama starring David Morrissey.

The saga began innocuously enough when Ms Pemberton, a 35-year-old accountant, received a call from a Spanish-sounding woman who asked for Dr Falkowski's mobile number, which she gave without thinking.

"And that was one of the really surreal things about it," said Dr Falkowski. "My life was going fairly well, I was quite happy with things, no major problems, and then suddenly everything changed overnight, literally, without any warning."

Over the next 12 months, the couple were subject to what was later described in court as "torrid campaign of texts, emails and many phone calls, both expressly threatening and silent".

The messages and calls contained accurate and detailed information about their families, movements and addresses. One text message in December 2002, days before a dental appointment at which Ms Pemberton planned to have her teeth whitened, said: "Her mouth could burn."

In another, Dr Falkowski was urged not to marry "the false witch", and claims were made that his fiancée had been cheating on him. Calls were also made and messages sent to family, friends and colleagues. On one occasion the couple returned to the boat on which they lived at Limehouse Marina, east London, to find that the gas cooker, which Dr Falkowski claims had never been used, had been left on.

The campaign intensified just before the couple's wedding. Ms Pemberton received a threat that a hired gunman would kill her on the day. One message said she would be "burnt down in her wedding dress". Another read: "Bang, bang, bang, that's all you deserve. Fucking Deborah tart, your last days are counted up."

Sharon Malins, former head chef at the Salterns Hotel in Poole, where the reception was to be held, received text messages on 5 September saying that "many will be dead" if the wedding went ahead. One message read: "Sharon please Falkowski-Pemberton wedding can't take place, food has been poisoned, guests will be dead."

As a result the wedding was secretly cancelled while police staked out all the public phone boxes on the day of the supposed wedding. A 45-year-old woman was arrested after she was spotted making 20 or 30 frantic texts and calls in the space of two or three minutes.

She turned out to be Maria Marchese, the partner of one of Dr Falkowski's then-patients, George Attard, and who had joined Mr Attard for a handful of therapy sessions between 1998 and 2002. "It wasn't as if she was someone I recognised by name immediately," says Dr Falkowski.

That should have been the end of Dr Falkowki's nightmare but, in fact, it was only the beginning. Despite having been caught red-handed, the Crown Prosecution Service chose not to prosecute Marchese, despite overwhelming evidence, such as a shrine dedicated to Dr Falkowski being discovered at her flat.

Having been freed with only a caution, Marchese then accused Dr Falkowski – who had by that time split from Ms Pemberton – of drugging and raping her. This time the CPS acted, and it was the entirely innocent Dr Falkowski who found himself charged. Two days before his case was due to be heard at the Old Bailey, dramatic new DNA evidence proved that Marchese was a liar, and secured his acquittal of the rape charge.

She had stolen a used condom from a bin outside his then-girlfriend Bethan Ancell's flat and smeared his semen over a pair of her knickers. Ultimately, it was this fiendishly damning DNA evidence that proved Marchese's undoing, after tests also threw up the DNA of Ms Ancell. He hadn't met Ms Ancell at the time of the alleged rape, and he was duly acquitted.

Finally the CPS decided to act against Marchese, convicting her of harassment in August 2006, the judge handing down a long sentence to reflect the severity of her crimes.

Four years on and the story is to be re-lived in a television drama U Be Dead, starring David Morrissey (State of Play, Blackpool) as Falkowski and Tara Fitzgerald as Pemberton. It's a gripping film that catalogues Marchese's escalating war of attrition. So why relive the nightmare by co-operating on an ITV drama?

"A few people said it was such an interesting story that somebody was bound to do something about it, so it would be better to be involved so that it told our side of the story accurately," Dr Falkowski says. "It's also quite nice that people can now see the whole story rather than snippets they would have seen in the press at various stages along the way, to have it all out there."

But having it all "out there" includes bits that perhaps don't reflect entirely well on Dr Falkowski, such as the fact that, in the midst of his and fiancée Debbie's stalker nightmare, he secretly began to see another woman, his future wife, Bethan. "The stalker was always there between Deb and I; we didn't know who was doing it, and it was frustrating. [Bethan was] somebody who wasn't involved in it at all, somebody not stuck in that confinement," he says. "It's part of being a real story; this is one of those real-life things."

Debbie Pemberton, who now lives abroad, told a newspaper in 2006 that Marchese "took away 11 months of my life and destroyed a relationship. But ironically, on one level, it did me a favour. If I had married Jan it would have been a mistake and I would be divorced by now. I am convinced now that he was the wrong man for me." Dr Falkowski agrees. "Things worked out for me in the end despite the stalking," he says.

In the flesh, Dr Falkowski resembles the actor James Nesbitt more than the man playing him, David Morrissey, something people have obviously told him before, because he doesn't seem surprised when I mention it. "James Nesbitt, the obvious candidate, yeah," he says. "David Morrissey did it very well. He was actually very organised; he had seven or eight pages of A4 paper questions in enormous detail. It's odd having someone play you and it was quite odd watching the preview because this went on over four years and they'd condensed it into two hours."

Does he think of Marchese watching the drama in prison? "I don't know where she is. I've never had any intention or wish to find out anything about, or to understand, Marchese. I don't even want to have a sense that she might get some satisfaction from us thinking about her.

"I think she tried getting the production halted – she tried taking legal action against the producer – she's obviously unhappy that it's not her version of events. And they didn't offer her a cameo part either, so that was obviously disappointing. She's very intelligent and very cunning. That's what we found so incredible, the lengths she went to. When she was found guilty and her story was in the papers I was then approached by a couple from London where she had stalked the husband and made accusations that he had assaulted her. Then they realised it was all false and she was cautioned. Unfortunately, cautions don't get registered on the police computer."

Dr Falkowski says he has no wish to become a spokesperson for issues about stalking, but with a British crime survey in 2004 estimating that every year in the UK, 1.2 million women and 900,000 men are victims of harassment does he have any advice for victims?

"People need to report it to the police," he says, adding that he thinks social networking sites such as Facebook are a godsend to stalkers. "One of the very important things is to log everything so if they catch the people then you have the evidence. And you should try ... not to ignore it, but to live despite it. Otherwise it can be a self-imposed exile."

U Be Dead is on ITV1 on 5 September