Lily Allen's trauma shows police inept at handling stalkers
For seven years Lily Allen went through sheer hell at the hands of delusional stalker Alex Gray. In that long period of time Gray - claiming that he had written Allen's 2009 hit The Fear - systematically hounded the singer.
Beginning with a tweet taglined @lilyallenRIP, Gray moved on to abusive, threatening letters - sometimes delivered in person to her record company, her sister's shop and Allen's own flat.
He also approached her assistant and other colleagues, all of whom agreed that Gray was "frightening". And he turned up at a concert holding up a banner reading 'I Wrote The Fear'. As if that wasn't bad enough, he started banging on her door and spending nights in her garden.
Gray's stalking came to a head in October last year when Allen, asleep with her friend, with her children in their room across the hall, was awoken by loud banging on the wall: "I sat up and looked and the doorhandle was twisting round. This guy came steaming in and I didn't know who he was. I recoiled and he ripped the duvet off, calling me a 'f*****g b***h' and yelling about where his dad is."
Allen was convinced that the intruder had something under his jacket - and that it was a knife (previously, Gray had threatened to stab Allen through the face).
Luckily it appears that Gray was thrown by the presence of Allen's friend, who wrestled him out of the house. Allen vividly remembers fearing for the lives of her children: "There was this second outside my kids' room when I was terrified to go in, in case of what I might find."
No wonder, then, why the once-chipper pop star describes herself as "a changed person". It would be a remarkable woman who could live under such a threat for seven years and still be happy, secure and comfortable.
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But even more frightening than Alex Gray was the police's inadequate response to Allen's nightmare. She reported that she was being stalked immediately... and, well, not a lot happened (they lent her a panic alarm for a few months before asking for it back).
After the police phoned her, warning that "Alex Gray is active", Allen, who had never actually seen her stalker, begged police to see a photograph of Gray. They refused until eventually relenting and letting her see a photo - briefly - before taking it away again.
Even after the incident of someone entering her house the police seemed to prefer to let it go, saying that it could have been a drunken man who somehow stumbled into Allen's home.
It was only after she reported a handbag had been stolen that the police took the situation seriously: "The change in atmosphere was palpable, it was like a sigh of relief: 'Now it's burglary - we understand that'."
Even then the police dragged their heels: "I hadn't had any contact from police, I presumed they were actively searching for him; it's now apparent to me that wasn't the case. When I arrived home my handbag was on the bonnet of my car outside my house. Burnt. Everything pulled out and cut up or burned and the bag burned." Gray was subsequently caught and charged with burglary and harassment - Allen has only spoken out following Gray's conviction earlier this month.
If that's how they treat a terror campaign against a celebrity, it makes you wonder how they treat the stalkings of ordinary people. Well, badly, if studies are to be believed, with an estimated 1% of cases going to court.
It is not a rare crime, with one woman in five and one man in 12 saying they have been stalked. Estimates say 700,000 people are stalked in England and Wales each year.
Stalking is a crime without end. The whole purpose is to strike permanent fear into the victim, to permanently undermine their sense of safety. And we know that some will end in physical assault - surveys say that 30% to 40% of stalkings end in violence - and sometimes murder.
Considering the police's behaviour in regard to Allen's complaints and the complaints of others, they seem ill-geared to cope with the reality of stalking. Steal a laptop and they're fine, but someone watching your house, or just staring at you in a threatening fashion?
Sending aggressive tweets and just happening to be outside your work when you're leaving? That seems to make the police uncomfortable.
Maybe it is because "stalking" only became an offence as such in 2012, or the police are not properly trained in recognising and fighting the crime, but that is not a lot of comfort to the victims.
Or maybe our laws are simply not sufficient to cope with patterns of behaviour as opposed to specific "incidents". Whatever, something has to change.
One in five women. One in 12 men. Think about it - that means that you almost certainly know victims of stalking. Friends and colleagues who have been terrified and frightened by people - sometimes strangers, sometimes not - who have a pathological fixation with them.
They deserve our concern and they deserve our protection - through the police, our police, the police whose prime job is to make us feel safe not just on our streets, but in our very homes.
Amazingly, the authorities do not keep a register of stalkers - making them much more difficult to keep under observation.
Allen states the case clearly: "It was not special attention I looked for, it was reassurance and validation. The police made me feel like a nuisance, rather than a victim."
Maybe it's time for the police to make the stalkers feel under threat.