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суббота, 22 апреля 2017 г.

Debbie Pemberton, 39, was driven to the brink of suicide in one of the worst cases of stalking police had seen. As her story is turned into an ITV1 drama, U Be Dead, she reveals how she survived


Even eight years on, the beep of a text message is enough to take me back to the worst time of my life. A time when I received up to 10 texts a day from a stalker, threatening to kill me. A time when I lived every second in fear, ducking into doorways on my way to work in case I was being followed; when I was terrified to tell friends and even my family what I was going through, in case one of them was my tormentor. A time when panic was an emotion I felt every waking hour.
My ordeal began in 2002, a year after I met Dr Jan Falkowski, a psychiatrist, then 41, at a powerboat race. We started dating and within a year, we were engaged and planning our wedding. I couldn't have been happier. It was then that the mystery calls and text messages started.

The first call occurred when Jan and I were travelling by train from his houseboat in London to my flat in Dorset for the weekend. A woman asked me to confirm my full name, before hanging up. It sounded like a marketing company, so I thought nothing of it.
A few minutes later, Jan got a text saying: "I know where you park your car at the hospital." Convinced it was a crank caller, we ignored it. But when we started getting three or four messages at a time, all along a similar theme, we realised it was more than a joke. And when we tried to call the sender's number it didn't connect.
Jan and I contacted the police for help. They told us to keep the messages, but not to worry. Jan couldn't think of anyone it could be, and I couldn't understand why someone would treat us like that.
But then, 10 days after the first texts arrived, the messages changed. As I scanned the words of my latest text, my hands trembled. "You will burn in your wedding dress," it read. I was terrified. If I'd known then that would be the first of thousands, I don't think I could have gone on.
We went back to the police, who recommended we change our phone numbers, but we decided not to.
Why should we be beaten? And if we kept getting messages, surely it would help catch whoever was sending them?
Soon I was receiving up to 10 threats a day. One said: "A bullet waiting for U. Gunman paid", and another simply said: "U B Dead." I became increasingly suspicious and paranoid, questioning the motives of everyone I met, from the stranger sitting next to me on the train to the person who pushed past me in the street.
Jan was receiving messages too, but his were complimentary, telling him how much he was admired. It became obvious to me that this person was a jealous woman. Someone who saw me as a love rival. And she wanted me out of the way.
Maria Marchese was obsessed with Jan
One night, we came back to Jan's houseboat to find all the lights on, when I knew I'd switched them off that morning. Someone had broken in. To get into the marina, you needed a security pass, so my stalker had somehow bypassed the gate. Jan was unnerved, but I felt violated. The police dusted for fingerprints, but they found nothing.
A few weeks later, we returned to the boat after a night out in the pub. Jan stepped in ahead of me, then shouted: "Get back!" The gas taps had been turned on. If we'd been out for much longer, the boat would have exploded the moment we turned on a light.
Hysterical, I broke down. Text threats were one thing, but this was physical. Someone wanted to harm us.
Soon I didn't even feel safe in my own home. Police traced calls and texts to phone boxes nearby, even to the station where I caught the train every morning - some had phones with keyboards where you could send texts to mobiles - this person knew our daily routines, where we lived and how I got to work for my job as a financial analyst.
In the office, I couldn't concentrate. A woman constantly bombarded my department with calls, abusing my colleagues if they didn't put her through. She even called the chief executive, saying I'd leaked sensitive information to the press. I hadn't, but they had to investigate. Thankfully, they were understanding, but it was still damaging.
Jan had treated Marchese's partner
Every day I jumped if my phone beeped, terrified what was coming next. I could only doze for a couple of hours a night. My skin broke out in eczema and I lost a stone in weight.
By now, we'd moved in together. Jan was able to take each day as it came. While I craved his support, he wanted me to be stronger, which I found frustrating.
In 2003, we decided to move to a 'safe house', one that Jan and I found near where we lived already. We told no one our new address - not even our friends or family. I hated it, but I felt secure for the first time. I'd switch my phone off at night, trying to escape. But every morning, a flurry of hate messages would flood my inbox.
Feeling suffocated, Jan and I struggled. Even our wedding was being destroyed by our stalker. I had to use a password when I spoke to the wedding venue, because our stalker had tried to cancel the booking four times. When that failed, she'd sent a text saying that she'd poison our guests.
 The gas was on the boat could have exploded 
The police still didn't know who my stalker was, but as our wedding day grew closer, Jan and I came up with a plan. We'd secretly postpone our wedding and hold a 'fake' one instead - hoping our stalker would do something to identify herself. Cancelling our day was heartbreaking, but it was our chance to catch this woman.
As our 'real' wedding was put on hold - the one thing I'd been looking forward to - I even considered killing myself, ending it all just so I'd be free. But I couldn't let this person destroy me. I refused to give in.
I needed Jan's support more than ever, but we had started arguing over tiny things and he became distant.
On what should have been the happiest day of my life on September 6, 2003, I sat, terrified, in my parents' house with two police officers. More police were waiting at the venue in case the stalker showed up there. My £2,000 wedding dress hung on a bedroom door, unworn.
Debbie moved to France for a fresh start
Two officers were at my flat with my lodger and at 12.30, she called. My lodger answered and kept her on the line - listening to her spouting hatred and abuse - long enough for the police to trace the call.
Maria Marchese, 45, was found in a phone box and arrested. The police called us after they'd taken her to the station to tell us who she was. We were baffled.
Marchese was a complete stranger. We'd never heard of her. She'd become obsessed with Jan after he'd treated her partner. Marchese had accompanied him to his appointment. Jan, though, had no recollection of meeting her.
But in Marchese's mind the only thing standing in the way of their relationship was me - the "vile slut", the "FDT" (f***ing Debbie tart).
With all the stress, my relationship with Jan was crumbling. Isolated and alone, I couldn't confide in him now.
Soon after Marchese's arrest, I discovered Jan was having an affair with a PR executive, Bethan, then 24, after finding a romantic text message from her on his phone. Devastated, I couldn't believe he was holding another woman in his arms when I needed him.
Left to right: Debbie moved to France for a fresh start; ITV1's U Be Dead tells Debbie and Jan's story; Text threats ruined the couple's life; Tara Fitzgerald plays out Debbie's anguish; Marchese is portrayed by actress Monica Dolan
He'd fallen in love with me when I was a care-free girl and he couldn't deal with the woman Marchese had turned me into. We split up in October 2003.
Now Marchese had what she wanted, I was no longer worried that she'd contact me again, even though she was out on bail. Once I was out of the way, the messages stopped.
I moved to a friend's flat in London and started questioning my future. Marchese had turned me into a terrified wreck, my reputation at work had been dented and I'd lost my fiancé. I had to move on.
In November 2003 our case against Marchese never made it to court due to lack of evidence. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This woman had ruined my life and was getting away with it.
Desperate for a fresh start, I decided to leave the country. Moving to France in November 2004, I found a job as an accountant at a ski resort in the Alps. When I arrived, I had my first proper night's sleep in a year.
At first, I was wary of making friends, but the resort was small and I soon relaxed. I even started going out for dinner, drinks and having fun.
 Jan and I had to cancel our wedding day 
It was on a night out that I met John, now 35, a ski instructor and hotel manager. Anxious about getting involved with a new man, we took our relationship slowly. At first I didn't tell him what had happened back in London. I wanted him to know me as me, not a victim.
But Marchese wouldn't leave me alone. In December 2004, the police called to say she had accused Jan of raping her. She'd called me as a witness for the prosecution. I was furious. Marchese was still invading my life. I wondered if she would ever leave me alone.
Breaking down, I turned to John. Little by little, I told him my story. He was shocked, but supportive. He sat and listened, wiped away my tears and made me feel safe.
Jan was under suspicion of rape for almost 18 months before the case against him was dropped. It turned out that Marchese had stolen a condom from Jan's bin and emptied the contents of it onto her clothes. Eventually, it was proven that his girlfriend Bethan's DNA was also on the sample and the case was dismissed. It was disgusting that Marchese's case had got so far, but that Jan and mine's case against her had stalled from the beginning. But thanks to her cry of rape she was prosecuted for perverting the course of justice. Then more evidence allowed my case to be re-opened and Marchese was charged with harassment and threats to kill.
Debbie and John are happily married
I was called to give evidence in court in July 2006. Determined to face up to her, I was shocked to see nothing in her eyes. No emotion. No understanding of how she'd nearly destroyed me.
Boiling up with anger for what she'd done to me and determined to make sure people understood what I went through, I allowed myself to cry in front of the jury: 'I was driven to the brink of despair. I just wanted a way out,' I sobbed. Fighting her, I felt stronger.
Maria Marchese was found guilty on all the charges and jailed for nine years in January 2007. The conviction finally gave me closure. Returning to France, I slept better than ever and started focusing on my job and my boyfriend. Three months after the trial ended, John proposed.
We married in January this year and our wedding couldn't have been more different from the one I'd planned with Jan. Only 20 or so of our family and friends were invited, but the day was perfect. I felt free and happy.
Jan and Bethan outside court in 2006
Time has given me distance from what I went through. In fact, it almost feels as if it all happened to someone else. Now, three years on, my story has been turned into an ITV1 drama, U Be Dead, starring David Morrissey as Jan and Tara Fitzgerald as me.
It wasn't until I started talking at length to the screenwriter that I realised just how far I've come since that dark time. Even though I may never be the trusting person I was, I'm almost me again. John's healed so much of the hurt just by being there and supporting me. I laugh with him, something I used to worry I'd never do again.
I've changed every detail of my identity, including my name. I don't give out my mobile number or have a Facebook or Twitter account. I've lost touch with old friends as a result, but that's a sacrifice I've had to make.
It's horrific that it's taken my stalking case and several other high-profile ones - including the death of Clare Bernal, who was shot in London's Harvey Nichols in 2005 - to show how serious stalking can be. And in Jan's case, the untrue allegations of rape made by Marchese will be on his record forever. But I'm happy that there are now special units and services available to victims of stalkers, offering valuable counselling, which is something I was never given.
As for my feelings towards Marchese - I almost pity her. What she put me through was disgusting. Police said it was one of the worst cases of stalking they'd ever seen.
Marchese took five years of happiness from me - time that I'll never get back. There's no excuse for that. She'll be up for parole in 2012 if she shows any remorse, though I doubt that will happen.
Of course, I'm not looking forward to her release. But I have to tell myself it was never really me she was interested in. I was in the way, that "FDT" that kept her from Jan. I refuse to let this woman steal any more of my happiness."

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