You don’t know me, but I watch you

As a forensic psychologist, Kerry Daynes’s job took her from maximum-security prisons to secure hospitals, working with highly complex criminals. Then, in 2011, a sinister email from a stranger turned the tables, taking Kerry from investigator to victim. In this exclusive extract from her new book, she relives the six-year stalking ordeal that left her questioning everything she thought she knew about the criminal mind. 

James Ross/stocksy United, UktV

As I put down my mug I read the words on the screen in front of me again. Lies written by someone I had never met, on a bogus website set up by a stranger in my name. ‘I have clear-cut evidence that Kerry Daynes is a liar. At worst it brings into question her credentials as an expert witness.’ A week earlier I’d received a Facebook message request from someone I didn’t recognise: ‘I’m not sure how you will take this but I have started a website for you.’

My private practice had been steadily growing for ten years. I’d built a strong reputation as a direct and honest psychologist and had begun to make TV appearances on crime documentaries as a talking head. I wrote back immediately, politely thanking him for his unsolicited offering, made it clear I was uncomfortable about anybody creating a website for me but that I would reimburse him for registering the domain name (which would have cost about £20). His reply now flipped from vaguely polite to something more sinister. ‘I could continue to run it as a fan or tribute site but I’m not sure that I want to be psychoanalysed. I don’t see anything illegal in carrying on but I will sell you the domain name for £3,000.’

Back then there wasn’t the same awareness of the perils of simply being a woman online. I watched anxiously as each day new ‘content’ went up on his site. There were sexually graphic comments that made specific references to my clothing, especially a pair of jeans I wore when off duty. He must have seen me wearing them in real life. I was being stalked.

He went on to write outrageous and false allegations about my work. He said I was not a bona fide psychologist and called me a criminal because he’d found evidence of a fine I’d paid for filing my tax return late. Had he gone through my bins?

Even worse, I realised that if a site visitor contacted ‘me’ via this website, they received a reply saying, ‘Thank you for contacting Kerry Daynes’. Potential clients, solicitors, police officers, TV producers, even judges could have emailed and I wouldn’t have known anything about it. Not only was I being stalked but my career was under siege.

It’s hard to capture how deeply unsettling it feels to realise that you have somehow awoken a random person’s rage. Not knowing who it was meant anyone could potentially be him – the person walking behind me in the street. I didn’t feel safe behind my own front door either, because he had mentioned that he knew my address. The police had traced him through the details he used to pay for the site registration and spoke to him at his home, which turned out to be uncomfortably close to mine – yet I never knew they’d been to see him until I read about it on his website.

I set about making my house a fortress, with a new alarm system and extra locks. I even went to stay with a friend for a while, and moved back with a giant dog, much to my cat’s disgust. For the first time I was truly scared – of a man I had never met – and I had a sense of my gender being the touchpaper for misogynist vitriol.

***

This happened a few weeks before I first met Liam, a man whose criminal history included several degrading attacks on women. His restrictions were tight: his room was locked and alarmed at night, and if he went out he had to stick to his work placements and probation appointments. He also had to produce evidence of where he had been, with receipts. He’d been referred to me after he’d asked for some restrictions to be lifted.

I was looking out over the garden of the housing facility Liam had been living in for the past seven months since leaving prison when he walked in and looked me up and down, taking in my figure before he got to my face. He was irritated – I could understand that. Who greets the news that they are about to undergo an assessment commonly known as ‘the Psychopath test’ – which identifies the extent to which a person demonstrates the 20 qualities of a psychopath – with good humour?

Liam settled into the interview but his answers were on the brief side. I felt he was only giving me as much information as I probed for and nothing more, so I was sure his score wasn’t going to indicate an unusually high psychopathy level. Then I remembered the receipts in Liam’s file and asked to see them – they might tell me more.

What I saw made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. The receipts showed that he bought bread for the semi-secure housing project he was living in before heading for the same Costa Coffee, sometimes as often as three or four times on the same day. And he was always served by the same person – Esther. The feeling that Liam’s commitment to this branch might be driven by more than an appreciation of the cappuccinos was strong.

I decided to take a stroll into town to the café. I picked up a sandwich and joined the queue to pay. The girl at the counter asked if I wanted anything else but I was too busy looking at her name badge to hear her the first time: Esther. She was short with fair hair in a ponytail. She looked about 17. Liam’s physical assaults had been on blonde teenage girls.

As predicted from our first encounter, Liam had an average score – there was nothing screaming ‘psychopath’. But the tone of my next meeting with him quickly darkened when I laid out the receipts. Instantly his eyebrows came together as he pointed at me and spat, ‘You f***ing b****, since when has buying coffee been a crime?’ He stood up, swept the receipts off the table and leaned down on both arms, eyes tightened into a glare. ‘I think you’re an interfering old whore and I wouldn’t even touch you,’ he snarled before storming out of the room. His restrictions were not lifted.

***

A couple of months later I found myself at Manchester Civil Justice Centre flanked by my legal team and saw for the first time the man behind the website. It dawned on me that this was the same innocuous-looking person who had just a few minutes ago been sitting a few feet away from me in the café downstairs.

He was ordered to convert his website to a blank screen and destroy any material relating to me. The judge continued: ‘Do you understand that Miss Daynes does not want any form of business relationship with you?’ And that is when he said, ‘It doesn’t matter because I’m done with her. She’s upset me,’ as though we’d had a promising romance that had turned sour.

I exchanged glances with the legal assistant on my left. To my right my solicitor had written the word NUTTER where I could see it. I smiled weakly. He wasn’t a nutter any more than Liam was a psychopath. In my mind I replaced the word with ‘misogynist’ – someone with an ingrained prejudice against and contempt for women and girls. It’s one of the few conditions that hasn’t yet been declared a mental illness – probably because if it were, it would be a pandemic. Here was just another of misogyny’s footsoldiers: a man who so resented a woman’s rejection that he wanted to punish her for it.

I walked out of court because I knew that as this was a civil case I was unlikely to recover £60,000 of legal costs from him, but I was relieved that I had at least tackled a problem head on. It was over. I went home, switched off the alarm, closed the curtains and lay down on the sofa. I couldn’t have imagined then that I would still be dealing with it six years later.

***

I stayed out of the public eye deliberately after being stalked – keeping a low profile felt the safest thing to do. I was having doubts about one was hurt but it seemed like a deliberate attempt to make me feel in peril.

A week later I got the bill. The man who had built the bogus website said I owed him £26,000 and he would be taking me to court for payment – but he was willing to negotiate and thrash this out in a round-table meeting, as though he were the prime minister extending a diplomatic invitation and not the man who had made my life a misery. Once again I hired a solicitor and the case was thrown out as an abuse of court.

Then my cat Bijou died. I had let the dogs out and Bijou slunk out, too. I went upstairs for a shower. When I came back downstairs the dogs wouldn’t come back inside. They were staring at Bijou’s lifeless body. There wasn’t a mark on him, no sign of a tussle – deep down I knew this wasn’t the work of another animal. I could see that his body was in an unnatural position, as if he had been thrown over the fence already dead.

And Bijou hadn’t been the one who had written JILL DANDO – the Crimewatch presenter fatally shot outside her home in 1999 and whose killer has never been found – on the other side of my fence. My anger swelled again, only this time it was visceral and more determined. Receiving an invoice from a man who had abused me and made me feel threatened in my own home crystalised my thinking. Suddenly it was clear that no amount of keeping my head down was going to make a difference. I had to be part of the solution by refusing to respond to my stalker’s invitations to ‘watch this space’. As my mum would say, ‘Knickers to that’. It was time to fill the space instead.

***

I still work as a forensic psychologist and act as a court witness, but after being stalked I chose to effect change by other routes, working as a campaigner with the National Centre for Domestic Violence and other charities including the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. In 2017 I started police training on improving the way they respond to stalking behaviour. In 2018, the Crown Prosecution Service and National Police Chiefs’ Council announced a joint package of improvement measures which included clear instructions that harassment warnings should not be used in stalking cases as they fail to address the root of the stalker’s obsession and the introduction of new procedures that ensure that risky patterns of behaviour are identified swiftly by the police. I went on to campaign for the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders, which would give police the authority to enforce early measures to give victims immediate protection and to ensure that stalkers receive the necessary psychological treatment to prevent further offending. This was passed into law two months ago but there is still much work to be done to ensure that it works in practice.

My stalker continues to renew registration of his website in my name.

This is an edited extract from The Dark Side of the Mind by Kerry Daynes, which will be published by octopus on 30 may, price £16.99* To order a copy for £13.59 Until 2 June, Visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15.