News, Culture & Society

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Being stalked is scary – as I know only too well

On the morning of June 18, 23-year-old Gracie Spinks, a keen equestrian, said goodbye to her mother and drove the short distance to Blue Lodge Farm in Duckmanton, Derbyshire. She kept her horse Paddy there.

What should have been a routine trip ended in tragedy. Shortly after 8am, the former lifeguard was found in a pool of blood in the field. She had a stab wound to her neck which had severed an artery and cut through her spine. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene.

She is believed to have been murdered by Michael Sellers, 35, an ex-colleague at a warehouse where she worked, who was also found dead nearby.

The inquest into her death last week heard she had told police she was being stalked by Sellers. Friends say he became ‘obsessed’ with Gracie when they were both employed at the e-commerce company facility and she was forced to take out a restraining order against him.

Derbyshire police are to be investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct over the contact they had with her earlier this year when she told them she was being stalked.

Gracie Spinks, 23, (pictured) was stabbed in the neck on the morning of June 18, believed to have been murdered by her stalker Michael Seller, 35, an ex-colleague who became ‘obsessed’ with her

It is a tragic story and one that emphasises how we must take stalking more seriously.

Too often the police refuse to investigate until ‘something actually happens’ or the perpetrator breaks the law in some way, such as by breaking into their victim’s home.

Even then, it’s too easy to lump it together with other minor crimes and not see it for what it actually is — a symptom of a pathologically intense focus on individuals which can quickly escalate, with horrifying consequences.

Make no mistake, real stalking is absolutely terrifying. It’s not just that in a small number of cases such as Gracie’s, it will escalate into a tragedy. It’s the extraordinary emotional toll it takes on the victim. Something that can drag on for years. It starts to affect all aspects of the person’s life and makes them constantly cautious and mindful about what they are doing and where they are going.

I have a small insight into this myself because I was stalked by a former patient. It was many years ago when I was a junior doctor and she’d been my under my care for six months. We’d got on very well.

She continued to email me after I’d left the post and I politely explained I was no longer her doctor, so was unable to help any more. She kept emailing and even started leaving messages for me at work.

Slowly things began to turn sinister. I saw her at social events several times; outside a bar, once at the theatre and so on.

At first this seemed like an extraordinary coincidence, but then I became suspicious.

Another patient who knew her warned she had set up fake social media accounts and was following me. It also transpired she was regularly messaging my partner who was unaware who she was and when he blocked her, she began speaking to another friend.

Dr Max (pictured) revealed he too was stalked by a former patient when he was a junior doctor and emphasises how we must take stalking more seriously

Dr Max (pictured) revealed he too was stalked by a former patient when he was a junior doctor and emphasises how we must take stalking more seriously

I realised how much of my life was online, so I stopped posting personal details, including where I was going and who I was seeing. This seemed to make things worse. She came several times to the A&E where I was working.

Even though I was sure she didn’t pose a physical risk, it was disconcerting discovering that she knew so much about my life and had contacted friends and family members. She let it be known that she also knew my address.

It made me question lots of things. Did the parcel that failed to arrive really get lost in the post or had she managed to intercept it? Was the flat tyre on my bike just bad luck or something else?

What made it all the more galling was when I mentioned this to the manager of the service where I used to work, I discovered the woman had done it to another doctor, too, and no one had done anything about it.

Apparently, it’s quite common for patients to become obsessed with their doctor and stalk them. I was so shocked that I discussed this with my supervisor, who, to my horror, told me that he, too had been stalked by a former patient.

He then showed me a series of text messages his stalker had sent him. He hadn’t replied to any of them, but there were hundreds over the space of a year. Yet when he raised it as an problem at work people just shrugged and said it was because he was attractive.

There is actually an NHS service — the first like it anywhere in the world — specifically for stalkers. The National Stalking Clinic is based in North London and run by Dr Frank Farnham, a forensic psychiatrist and world authority on stalking.

It was set up in response to high-profile incidents, but needs more publicity and referrals as most people simply don’t know about it.

It is true that many stalkers have profound mental health problems and psychological difficulties, but their behaviour can devastate the lives of others. It must be taken seriously by the police as well as the criminal justice system.

A petition has been set up in Gracie’s name calling for tougher punishments for stalkers. Nothing will bring Gracie back, but if any good were to come out of this awful, horrific situation, surely it would be that.

Trust Mary not to get stuck in a rut   

Jerry Hall looks amazing with her new hair. She’s dyed her famous blonde locks copper during lockdown and she’s not the only one who’s had a radical makeover.

Mary Portas (left) has ditched her signature red bob for a more relaxed blonde do. I think it really suits her. She explained that during lockdown she couldn’t maintain the cut and colour and after a while, realised she felt happy with who she was and how she looked.

BEFORE: Mary Portas (pictured) has ditched her signature red bob

AFTER: She now has a more relaxed blonde do (pictured) and I think it really suits her

BEFORE AND AFTER: Mary Portas (pictured) has ditched her signature red bob (left) for a more relaxed blonde do (right) and I think it really suits her

I’ve noticed this with several friends who have also embraced their grey or changed their hairstyle.

I think the enforced isolation during lockdown meant people didn’t feel the pressure they usually do to maintain a certain look. It allowed them to start experimenting in a way they would have felt too self-conscious to do before Covid.

It’s also a good lesson for life as it shows how we get stuck in maintaining things rather than taking the plunge and making a change. If you’re wondering about a new look? Go for it!

Friends of one of the thugs alleged to have accosted Chris Whitty in London’s St James’s Park last week have tried to excuse his actions by saying he has ADHD and autism. What an insult to those with these conditions and yet another example of people trying to use mental illness to avoid blame. Those with ADHD and autism are perfectly able to tell right from wrong, and behave politely.

This habit of citing mental illness to explain away bad behaviour compounds the stigma attached to those who are really suffering.

It has a dual effect: it leads people to not take the conditions seriously; and implies such abhorrent behaviour is a result of mental illness — and, therefore, something to be feared.

  • When discussing changes in behaviour due to Covid, a friend made a fascinating observation. At the theatre during the interval she said there was a queue in the men’s toilets — usually unheard of. The reason? People were queuing to wash their hands.

What could be better than a cold, refreshing aperitif on a warm evening?     

Alcohol-free sparkling Crodino (pictured) is similar to an Aperol spritz or Campari soda - it has a sophisticated taste, refreshing and slightly bitter

Alcohol-free sparkling Crodino (pictured) is similar to an Aperol spritz or Campari soda – it has a sophisticated taste, refreshing and slightly bitter

If you’re watching calories or trying to cut down on your booze, alcohol-free sparkling Crodino is a must. Similar to an Aperol spritz or Campari soda, it has a sophisticated taste, refreshing and slightly bitter. 

It’s a classic Italian drink that can be served with ice or soda water for a longer drink. All the fun of summer without the hangover.