Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland woman secretly filmed in work bathroom tells of horror of coming face-to-face with man behind camera

Exclusive: Victim of voyeurism on how she rebuilt her life after sickening crime

By Claire Williamson

A Northern Ireland woman has bravely told of how she rebuilt her life after being the victim of voyeurism.

Karen Taggart (46) has courageously waived her right to anonymity to go public. She suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and at one point was too terrified to even venture to the bottom of the road to take the bin out.

She hopes that by telling her story it will help others to come forward and get the help they need.

Karen was targeted when she worked in a Co Antrim business. The perpetrator was Eric Lauro (54), who at the time of his conviction had an address at Artana Street in Belfast.

He was her team leader and violated her by secretly filming her in the staff bathroom.

He pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced on October 19, 2012.

Karen was first made aware of the images on September 8, 2008.

It's understood police had received intelligence that Lauro had indecent images of children on his computer and when they examined it they found another file containing the footage.

Karen was shown the images by police and asked if she could identify herself in them.

She was not told the nature of what the images were in connection with. It would be another four years before Lauro admitted his crimes and was sentenced for them.

She recalled the moment her life upside down. "I was told there was footage and the police came out the following morning. I was shown, two photographs, one at a time," she said.

"I was asked could I identify myself, and when I looked at the first photographs I said yes I think so, it looks like me.

"But she (the officer) handed me another photograph and I knew straight away. I knew it was me."

Karen was told "very little" about what had happened or how the photos had come about.

It was then on September 5, 2011 that Lauro was arrested and Karen was told there would be a trial, as he was denying the charges.

She said: "It was through court we found out the police had received intelligence he had indecent images of children on his computer.

"It was 13 months of knowing that I was now going to be in court and go into a witness box and be ripped to shreds for something that I had no part in and had no knowledge of what it was he was doing."

However, 10 days before the trial was due to begin the police officer rang to say Lauro had changed his plea to guilty for both crimes.

"They asked if I would like to go to court," she said.

"It was like it was an afterthought, and I said: 'You're right, I'll be going'."

Karen's hurt was compounded when she said she had to ask to submit a victim impact statement.

She recalled the day of his sentencing as she saw him waiting to go into the courtroom.

"I saw him sitting over to my side, I straightened myself up and I looked at him and didn't glare or anything," she said.

"He lifted his eyes when he heard the heels and he looked at me and I looked at him and I thought, I haven't done anything wrong and you'll move your eyes and look somewhere else before I move my gaze - and he did."

Karen was accompanied by members of her family and her counsellor from Nexus NI, a charity that help survivors of rape and sexual violence.

She told of the harrowing moment that she said the police officer in charge of the case came in and went straight over to Lauro.

"He was standing talking to him for four or five minutes and then came over to me and said: 'I was just talking to Eric there and asking what his plans were'," she explained.

"And I thought: 'how inappropriate and insensitive is that? I'm not interested in what his plans are and I'm certainly not interested in you referring to him like that'. I just thought it was deeply insensitive.

"It's all the wee things, body language and how you conduct yourself. But we've said that, all along, everything is weighted in the side of perpetrators rather than victims of any crime at all."

Lauro was handed a sentence of a year, six months of which was on licence.

The voyeurism sentence and the sentence for the child images were run concurrently.

A Sexual Offences Prevention Order for 10 years was made in which he was prohibited from gaining access to a computer that did not have an internet 'lock' approved by the PSNI and an operational 'history' facility.

"That was his (the judge's) last words: 'Take him down'," added Karen.

"I had no faith and still have no faith in the judicial system, but I had just hoped and prayed, I didn't care what sentence he got, as long as he served even one night behind bars. What I didn't want to happen was him walking out behind me.

"He had to be told to get into the dock. That's the arrogance of the man, he came in to sit in one of the seats and he was told - 'get in where you belong'.

"But I had said from the start I didn't want to be sitting anywhere in his eye-line. I didn't want his eyes in the back of my head or looking at me."

However, even with the sentencing Karen said her journey of recovery had only just begun.

"It's awful even when someone is sentenced, it doesn't leave you, because it's not the end of it," she said.

"I'd been petrified, I ended up being diagnosed with PTSD and couldn't go out my front door to bring my bin down.

"I had said to the police officer about the Prisoner Release Information Scheme.

"And I'm still waiting on them sending me the leaflet or information. So I Googled it and got it myself and they were really good. I got a phone call the morning he was released."

Karen was later told she wasn't entitled to any compensation because she wasn't physically touched.

She said: "I wasn't entitled to anything, which again is horrendous, and I did give off to them. I said that's wrong, it should be updated and should say that you have stalking and all the modern things coming to the forefront. And it should be relevant to it."

It's only in the last year that Karen has seen her fears subside a little.

She said: "I still couldn't take the dog for a walk out round the estate on my own and couldn't go into town or to the bank on my own.

"My husband still does our grocery shop, but I'm a hell of a lot better than what I was.

"I would have been up all night every night going over everything in my mind. I wouldn't use public toilets, changing rooms. If I went into a changing room and there was anything on the ceiling, even an air vent, the same in toilets, an air freshener on the wall, if there was anything, I'm straight out. I had all female members of the family and friends warned to be very careful.

"So I would be very hyper-vigilent with anything like that."

She recalled the moment her worst fears were realised as she bumped in to Lauro after he had been released. She said: "I was in town with a friend and we were out the back of CastleCourt and I said to her he is about here somewhere.

"I nearly dropped to the ground, I was horrified. But even now I'm a lot better than what I was a few years back. And it took a lot of work and determination to get myself well again."

Karen says she owes Nexus NI her life thanks to the support and renewed confidence it gave her. The charity recently received a Big Lottery Fund grant for a new programme that helps survivors of sexual crime after they finish their initial counselling.

"It's helping other fellow survivors, males and females, that you can have a life and a level of good health - mental and physical. That you can be happy, you can be a good wife, a good husband, a good mother, sister, friend.

"You can participate in society and that is why the (Nexus) client forum means so much to a lot of us. I couldn't tell you what anyone in the forum has gone through, because we don't have to.

"We all know that we share something and that's how I like to think of it - a precious gold thread.

"I refer to it as being a gold thread, and gold is the most precious metal that you can have. It's a precious gold thread that runs through every single one of us and joins us."

She added: "I have nothing to hide or be ashamed about."

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