Emily Maitlis’ stalker has been sentenced to another three years in prison for breaching a restraining order preventing him from contacting the BBC presenter. Edward Vines, who met Maitlis when at university in Cambridge in the mid-90s, attempted to send two letters to his victim’s mother Marion, detailing his distress that the broadcast journalist had not been in contact with him. Vines wrote to Mrs Maitlis from Nottingham prison, where he has been serving a three-year sentence for breaching his previous restraining order.
Although the letters were fortunately intercepted by prison staff, it is difficult to imagine the distress they must have caused Maitlis. This is the twelfth time Vines has breached his restraining order, and the latest episode in a decades-long campaign of harassment against Maitlis.
Maitlis has shared her fear that Vines will never give up on his effort to infiltrate her life, comparing living with a stalker to suffering from a chronic illness.
Reading her words, I can’t help but feel pained. Like Maitlis, I have been the victim of obsessive behaviour—though in my case, perpetrated by an individual I had briefly dated, and who went on to harass me for months after our break-up. Although I can’t possibly imagine how devastating it must be to experience this for decades, the fear and powerlessness of being bombarded with unwanted communication are feelings that I am only too familiar with.
For most, Vines’ actions will seem nonsensical. By now, he must understand how badly Maitlis wants him to leave her alone – and yet time and again, he contacts her and her family. Surely knowing that he will be imprisoned again should be a sufficient deterrent?
Yet those of us unfortunate enough to have been through experiences similar to Maitlis’s are all too familiar with perpetrators' persistence. My ex refused to accept my insistence that I wanted to be left alone, arguing that he knew what I wanted better than I knew myself. He viewed me blocking his number and social media accounts as a roadblock that could be easily bypassed with new numbers and profiles. He was undeterred when I went to the police, continuing to contact me as recently as last year, over two years after the initial campaign of harassment had taken place. The actions of those who display obsessive behaviour is inherently illogical – in fact, that is one of its most frightening aspects.
Thankfully, Maitlis’ case appears to have been taken seriously by the justice system, but similar scenarios have laid bare a deep misunderstanding of the actions of stalkers and harassers. Last year, the police officer who fined 19-year-old Shana Grice for wasting police time after she filed a report of harassment was found not guilty of gross misconduct. The officer in question had refused to treat Grice as a victim, after learning that she had been in a relationship with her harasser. Grice was later murdered by the ex-boyfriend she had reported just a few months previously. Similarly, 26-year-old Alice Ruggles complained that she had felt “palmed off” by police when she reported an ex-boyfriend’s obsessive behaviour in 2016, just days before she was killed by him. These tragic stories show how abused women still face a fight for their lives when it comes to being taken seriously by the police.
While laws are changing and loopholes closings, Maitlis’ case is a painful reminder of how difficult cases like hers can be to address. Although I was lucky enough to be listened to by police, the law did little to alleviate the lasting impact stalking has had on my life, and the lingering fear that my harasser might act again – perhaps even more dangerously than before. After all, it is impossible to predict the actions of a person who acts so unpredictably that the police are asked to intervene.
Edward Vines’ actions show that we cannot be complacent; that we cannot assume that police involvement, even jail time, fully protects victims. We must listen to the victims’ fears, and trust their instincts – they have all too often proven grimly accurate.
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