Gina Martin: Upskirting campaigner reveals 8-year stalking ordeal

Exclusive: ‘I replay in my head how I will escape if he came into my flat,’ says activist

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 10 February 2022 13:09 GMT
Gina Martin is a 30-year-old writer and political activist
Gina Martin is a 30-year-old writer and political activist (Rosie Turner )

The activist who successfully campaigned for upskirting to be made a crime has revealed how she was subjected to a “terrifying” stalking ordeal for eight years.

Gina Martin, 30, spent 18 months fighting to make upskirting a specific offence after a man took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.

Ms Martin has now spoken about her ordeal at the hands of a stalker she went to school with, who has harassed her online and even pretended to be her dead grandmother in a social media message.

Matthew Hardy, 30, was handed a nine-year prison sentence at Chester Crown Court last month after pleading guilty to stalking involving fear of violence and harassment, after breaching a restraining order which blocked him from using false details on social media platforms.

Hardy fabricated hundreds of fake social media profiles to harass and terrorise victims around the UK over the course of a decade.

Ms Martin was not one of the nine victims involved in the trial, but says his stalking campaign affected her mental health and left her anxious.

She said: “I have a whole home alarm system. I replay in my head how I will escape if he came into my flat. I share my location every time I leave the house. One of his victims sleeps with a baseball bat.”

While sentencing Hardy, Judge Steven Everett told him his nine victims had “done nothing to harm you; you chose them at random”, as he warned Hardy’s actions were likely to “affect them for the rest of their lives”.

Ms Martin said her ordeal began in summer 2015, when she began receiving messages from old school friends and former colleagues, but it quickly became apparent the social media profiles were fake and had been created by Hardy.

Ms Martin said Hardy, with whom she had gone to secondary school in Cheshire, also began creating fake profiles purporting to be her, using her photos and including comments about her parents.

“He would use the same picture as my actual account,” Ms Martin said. “He would strike up conversations with people, spreading rumours and lies.”

The campaigner, who featured in the BBC’s 100 Women list, described Hardy’s campaign against her as a combination of cyberstalking and catfishing.

“He realised I was aware of him,” Ms Martin said. “He got obsessive about me. He was doing this to multiple women at the same time. He asked people I knew, ‘Where is Gina now?’ I started to get very terrified. He would ask very specific questions. This went on for six to 10 months.”

She said Hardy had called her mother via Facebook messenger using a fake account pretending to be Ms Martin’s partner, as well as contacting her partner’s friends in Australia saying he was gay and was leaving her, she said.

“He has caused such damage to people, relationships have been completely severed,” Ms Martin added. “He said one of his other victims was sleeping with her mum’s brother.”

Ms Martin said she got in touch with the police at the start of 2016 and had a case out against Hardy until mid-2017, when it was dropped by the police. She gave officers more than 100 screenshots, while Hardy confessed to setting up two accounts but denied the others.

“Matthew’s entire strategy was to pretend to be other people, and yet the police said without him admitting it, or contacting me as himself, they couldn’t prove it,” Ms Martin added.

The campaigner argued that the police do not properly understand how social media works – with officers telling her it would be very difficult to do anything unless he hurt someone.

“But it would be too late by that point,” Ms Martin said. “The police do not understand the real psychological torment of these things. The police do not do their job unless it is instant physical violence. I know 20 women victims who have been affected by him. It should have been taken seriously eight years ago.

“I have received a handful of messages since 2017 which are clearly from Hardy,” she said. “Six months ago, I was getting friend requests from my dead grandma who died from Covid. I got a message saying, ‘Hey G how are you?’ It was so upsetting.”

Ms Martin said Hardy’s cyberstalking has given her a “very heightened sense and disproportionate reaction” to her own personal safety. She is too scared to share content on social media when she is actually at the location she is tagging in the post.

She said: “I panic if taxi drivers pick me up from my actual address rather than postcode. My nervous system is exhausted. I’ve had a couple of nightmares specifically about Hardy over the years, with him breaking into my house. I am scared of Matthew Hardy. I was worried he would show up somewhere if he knows where I am.”

She noted her campaign work on upskirting has meant she has endured rape threats from male trolls online – adding that she spends her life feeling “scared” of men who hate her.

PC Kevin Anderson, who led the investigation into Hardy, said: “Having led on this case for more than 18 months I have seen the emotional distress and turmoil that Hardy has inflicted on his victims – he did all of this while hiding behind his computer screen.

“The impact on those affected by his actions has been immense, causing some of them to change some of their daily habits, and live in constant fear that they were being watched.”

Ms Martin said the relief she feels at the fact Hardy is now in jail is “temporary” and she is dreading his release, as the prison system fails to rehabilitate people.

She warned that the internet provides a “new tool” for a “very old problem” as it allows stalkers to harass their victims more quickly. “You live with this man in your pocket,” Ms Martin said. “It used not to be like that. You can turn your phone off but the messages are still there.”

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