Six months into her marriage, Philomena Willetts had a baby daughter, a new home in an affluent suburb of Leeds and a husband she adored. She could not have felt happier or more secure.
But then one day her husband came home from work, ashen-faced.
‘He said: “Oh Phil, you’re not going to believe this” — and showed me an email one of his colleagues had been sent.
‘It was ghastly. It said that my husband, a respected businessman, was untrustworthy, a hard drug user, a paedophile and a thief.
‘It was signed David Brett. David had sent the same email to all my husband’s business contacts — around 3,000 of them.’
Pictured: Philomena Willets unknowingly met her stalker at Leeds University in 1995 and they began a relationship which she ended after less than six months
Philomena and her husband knew exactly who was responsible. How couldn’t they? They’d all been at university together and David Brett had been stalking Philomena and anyone close to her for years.
In fact, the stalking went on for a full 21 years after she ended their brief undergraduate relationship.
And now it had started again. The horror that was David Brett was back, with a fresh and vengeful impetus.
‘We felt devastated, distraught; helpless actually. We phoned the police but with little hope they’d do anything to stop it,’ she says.
Brett’s pursuit of her was as obsessive as it was relentless and wide-ranging. He threw paint thinner over her car, smashed windows at her mother’s home and told work colleagues that she was a thief and sex offender.
The lies were monstrous but Brett, 43, who ran his own data marketing business, was well-spoken, intelligent, articulate — and alarmingly plausible.
As a consequence of the disruption Brett caused, Philomena, a 41-year-old married mother who worked as a financial adviser, was forced out of three jobs and driven close to a nervous breakdown.
David Brett, 43, poured paint stripper on mother-of-one Philomena Willets’ car and hacked into her husband’s emails to send messages to friends and neighbours accusing the couple of being paedophiles
In 2005, the law belatedly caught up with David Brett and he was given a lifetime’s restraining order at Leeds Magistrates’ Court. But such was his arrogance that within five years he was flouting it.
Finally, in April 2016, he was arrested and again appeared before Leeds Magistrates’ Court where he admitted breaching the 2005 restraining order and stalking.
But he was found to have been mentally unfit when he entered the guilty pleas, doctors having diagnosed him as suffering from persistent delusional disorder.
He was remanded in a psychiatric hospital for 17 months, but last week — in an extraordinary reversal of the original diagnosis — psychiatrists deemed him cured and capable of entering a plea in court.
Last Monday, at Kingston Crown Court in south-west London, he admitted three breaches of the restraining order, two charges of stalking and one of assault after he kicked an officer during his arrest.
Sentencing him to 41 months in prison, Judge Martyn Barklem told him: ‘It is hard to think of a more serious example of long-term stalking behaviour directed at making the lives of two people who meant you no harm as miserable as possible.’
Brett, who was told he will serve just half his sentence in prison and the remainder released on licence, is likely to be released in three months, however, as he has spent 17 months on remand.
Philomena, who was in court for his sentencing, is filled with rage.
‘I feel absolutely furious,’ she says. ‘David will be free in a matter of months and I don’t believe that he is reformed or rehabilitated.
‘I saw him in court and he seemed to be heavily sedated. You can tranquillise a rabid dog but it doesn’t cure it. When he’s released, I imagine he’ll be furious and want to exact revenge on me. I don’t know what he’s capable of — and I’m afraid.
‘I’ve been on the brink of a mental breakdown over this. The stalking has turned me into a nervous wreck. For six years I’ve been prescribed high doses of antidepressants because I found it really difficult to get through each day.
I feel absolutely furious. ‘David will be free in a matter of months and I don’t believe that he is reformed or rehabilitated.
‘We’ve moved house three times to try to stay one step ahead of David and I took my name off the electoral roll. I ceased to exist.
‘My employers got so fed up with his persistent harassment that they asked me to do the decent thing and leave work.
‘I’ve had to leave three jobs because of him: the last a fortnight ago because my boss was worried about what he might do if he was released this week.
Whenever I could, I’ve left the country with my daughter and gone on holiday because it’s the only way that I feel safe. I’ve been away for ten weeks this year.
‘I’ve never told the other mums at school I have a stalker, and I’m sure they think I’m spoilt and very lucky to be going away all the time.
‘If only they knew . . . ’
Her voice trails off briefly. But after years of silently enduring the torment Brett has inflicted on her, Philomena is now determined to make her voice heard.
What has she to lose now, she asks, from speaking out? Brett has taken so much from her — her extrovert, bubbly personality, her trust in others — she has nothing to gain from further silence.
‘My husband says I’m a shadow of my old self,’ she says. ‘I’ve become reclusive, a loner.
‘I’m sure he thinks this isn’t what he bargained for when we married. I feel I’ve put him in harm’s way.’
It is an awful irony that the onus has been on Philomena to change her life because of David Brett’s behaviour: she has become a fugitive, living in constant fear because the law has failed to protect her from him.
Last year, the maximum sentence for stalking was increased from five years to ten — though too late to give her tormentor, who committed his last offence against her in 2015, the highest tariff.
Philomena was just 19 and newly arrived at Leeds University when she met Brett. He, like her, was taking a business studies degree.
‘As we were leaving the class, he held the door open for me. He was 6ft 4in tall, very cocky, very forward.
‘He asked if he could take me out for a drink and I suggested a coffee. He took me out in his classic MG Midget sports car.
‘I’d arrived at university on the bus and was still living at home with Mum, who was divorced from my dad. I’m an only child, I’d been to a Catholic school and went to church every Sunday.
‘David was the elder of two brothers from a middle-class Jewish family in North London. I’d never encountered anyone like him before. The people in my life didn’t drive around in classic sports cars.
By 2000, Philomena had secured her first job as a financial adviser but Brett’s malign presence persisted. One day, he blundered into a meeting at a hotel in Leeds and told her boss that she was a thief and child abuser
‘He drove me home on that first day and just waltzed into Mum’s lounge and made himself at home. I thought he was cheeky but quite amusing.
‘After he’d gone, Mum told me: “That boy is going to be nothing but trouble. He’s too cocky and arrogant.” She didn’t like him — but I took no notice.’
Their relationship didn’t become physical until almost a year later, but when it did, Brett become terribly possessive.
‘If I wanted to go out with my group of girl friends, he insisted on knowing if any boys were going too. He could be lovely, but we’d have an argument every time I wanted to go out without him.’
His behaviour became still more aggressive and strange. Once, in a vain effort to stop her going out, he grabbed her purse and, knowing her bank card PIN, withdrew all the money from her account.
When she protested, he repaid it, stuffing wads of cash through her mother’s letterbox.
Unsurprisingly, within six months Philomena had ended the relationship.
‘And that is when the real weirdness began,’ she recalls. ‘He started ringing and ringing me, and he’d lurk in my driveway at night. A bouquet would turn up at my home; then another; then love poems.’
The stalking escalated when she got another boyfriend. ‘David lost the plot then. He’d sit outside my house all night at the bottom of the drive. It gave me the creeps.’
A subsequent long-term boyfriend and his family were also embroiled in Brett’s obsessive stalking. ‘I’d go to his parents’ home for Sunday lunch and David would turn up, shouting abuse.’
Philomena complained to the police — and in 1997 Brett agreed, in a court undertaking, not to contact her or her family or friends for 12 months.
‘Then, after a year, it all started again with even more force,’ she recalls. ‘At night we’d hear bangs, then the crashing of broken glass as he threw bricks at the windows. It was terrifying.’ Though the police were called, neighbours who had witnessed the attacks were too scared of reprisals to testify — so nothing was done.
By 2000, Philomena had secured her first job as a financial adviser but Brett’s malign presence persisted. One day, he blundered into a meeting at a hotel in Leeds and told her boss that she was a thief and child abuser.
‘He then rang the office from 9am until 5pm, without letting up, every day for a fortnight,’ she recalls. ‘He wanted to destroy my life and my livelihood and make me suffer.
‘I felt so bad about the disruption he was causing, within two weeks I left my job voluntarily.’
His behaviour was deranged but it was allied to sharp intelligence, making him doubly dangerous.
‘He wasn’t a loser who lived alone in a bedsit,’ says Philomena. ‘He spoke with a cultured accent. He sounded posh, which made him seem all the more believable.’
Brett’s marketing business, selling personal data, was also very successful. At one time he owned a yacht and drove a Porsche.
In 2005, a restraining order banned him from contacting Philomena, her friends or family for life. He went to Thailand and for five years did not harass her.
Then in 2010, news of her wedding — and the fact she’d married an old friend from university — somehow reached him and ignited a new wave of fury.
‘Because he sold personal data for a job — his business was finding people’s emails — it was easy for him to seek out all my husband’s business contacts and spread vicious lies.
‘He made our lives a living hell.’
He traced their new address in a pleasant, tree-lined road in Leeds and sent all the neighbours a letter claiming Philomena’s husband was a paedophile and murderer.
‘One of our neighbours was really distressed and called the police,’ she recalls. ‘Although the police then explained to all of them that we’d been targeted by a stalker who had a vendetta against us, it was still horrific.
He made our lives a living hell
‘I was finding it hard to get through each day and my doctor prescribed antidepressants. We’d only lived in the house for 18 months but we felt we had no choice but to move.’
Meanwhile, Brett continued to spread venom: Philomena says he even targeted her brother-in-law, telling his employers in the City that he was a thief.
It seemed, too, that Brett was untouchable. Living first on his yacht off the Spanish coast, then in Holland, he was, apparently, too ‘low risk’ to warrant extradition under a European Arrest Warrant.
Yet even from a distance, he continued to wreak havoc on his victims’ lives.
Philomena was asked to leave a second job as a financial advisor after he emailed her clients claiming she was a sex offender.
‘My boss said: “Please can you do the decent thing and leave? The police are wasting my time taking statements. I’m terrified that I’ll lose my business.”’
She duly quit her job and in 2013 set up a retail business of her own, selling children’s bedroom furniture from a high street shop. Once again, Brett tracked her down.
‘He emailed all the other shop owners in the street saying I was a paedophile and sex attacker. I closed the business.
‘At this point, we were seriously considering emigrating because I didn’t think that he’d ever stop looking for me.
‘The police told me never to phone him or interact with him as it would encourage him to harass me more. So I never responded.’
Twice more, in search of the peace of mind that had eluded them for so long, the family moved to different homes.
No one in Philomena’s orbit, it seemed, was safe from her stalker. He even vilified the best man at her wedding, jeopardising his business by sending clients malicious and false emails about him. Brett was only apprehended when he flew into Britain from Holland to have an operation on the NHS in April 2016.
Although he has been in custody since then, Philomena has still not felt safe: she fears he may even find ways to harass her from prison.
Campaigners at Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service, which was established to assist high-risk victims of stalking in England and Wales, believe victims are being let down by the judicial system.
They want to see the names of serial offenders put on a register — much like the one for sex offenders. It is an initiative that Philomena supports.
Meanwhile, the man who has pursued her with such malevolence for so long continues to disrupt her life.
‘I can’t stop talking and thinking about what David’s done to us,’ she says. ‘My husband and I have conversations about him all the time, and it’s horrible.
‘We should be a happy family but we’re still living in fear. I don’t think we’ll ever be free.’