A stalking ordeal left LOUISE MINCHIN so frightened that she almost quit her TV presenting job. She tells Eimear O’Hagan what stopped her – and why she wants to help others living in fear. PHOTOGRAPHS: RACHELL SMITH
On a warm summer’s day in July 2020, Louise Minchin became a statistic.
That year, more than 80,000 reports of stalking were made to the police in England and Wales– and hers was one of them.
A call made in fear by the TV presenter and journalist – after violent threats were posted online towards not only her, but her then 18-year-old daughter Mia – saw Louise join a community of victims nobody wants to belong to.
Almost two years on and with her stalker now in prison, it’s something she still struggles to speak about, yet here she is recounting the experience which, she says, means that her life will probably ‘never be the same’.
‘I don’t speak about it lightly; it was a horrific time that has had a massive impact on our family,’ she says. ‘It’s Mia who has encouraged me to share what happened to us, because if I can make any difference to others going through something like this, and raise awareness, I will. I want them to know they’re not alone.
‘This can happen to anyone, it can strike any life. I am just one person in an enormous group – [according to the ONS crime survey] around 1.5 million people in the UK are affected by stalking annually – and the “good” outcome of my case, with my stalker now serving a prison sentence, only happens in a very small percentage of cases.’
According to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, only 0.1 per cent of cases result in a conviction for stalking. Eighty per cent of victims are women, with police reporting a ‘significant increase’ in incidences of the crime during the Covid pandemic.
Louise’s ordeal began when the family was on holiday, a break after presenting BBC Breakfast – her TV home for 20 years – throughout the first lockdown. It was Mia, now 20, who alerted her mother to some suspicious comments on her Instagram posts.
‘Instantly, I knew there was something “off” about them. Of course, because of my job, I’ve had messages that weren’t particularly nice, but this felt different. The language was mean, it was not my usual experience on social media.
‘It was late and I told Mia we’d sort it out in the morning – but by the time we woke up it had escalated massively.’ Not only Louise’s Instagram account, but Mia’s too, had been deluged with comments from several anonymous handles, including death and rape threats.
Louise, 53, has never divulged the precise content of the posts. ‘What he wrote was so bad that I’ve never even shown my husband the screenshots I took of the messages before they were later deleted. And it was clear he knew where we lived from the details in the posts. That sent my level of worry straight to 100 per cent.
‘The threats he’d made – although at that stage we didn’t know if this was a man or woman – were very specific and felt very real,’ says Louise. ‘Mia was traumatised; I was absolutely terrified.’
After calls to both the police and BBC Security, the family including Louise’s husband David, 55, and younger daughter Scarlett, 17, travelled home to Cheshire where they went into a different form of lockdown, prisoners in their own home living in fear for their safety.
‘The police were really responsive. They took the screenshots to investigate and put us on the patrol list for the area. We installed CCTV at our home, began keeping the gates permanently shut, allowed our dogs to roam the garden and were double-locking doors. If there was a noise in the night, I was immediately wide awake. I struggled to relax and switch off.
‘My husband was, of course, in super protective mode. He didn’t want me or the girls to go anywhere on our own, not even to walk the dogs – not that we wanted to.’
For Louise, as for many victims, the anonymity of her stalker – and the fact they remained at large – resulted in her having to take extra measures outside her home to protect herself and her daughter, particularly in light of her public profile.
‘We had no idea for many months who this person was. It could have been anyone, anywhere. Mia and I stopped running together, which was something we’d really enjoyed doing during the first lockdown.
‘I was very vigilant every time I left the house, checking nobody was following me. Before it happened, when people recognised me from television and stopped to say hello, and were so open and familiar, that was a wonderful part of my job. But overnight it changed. Every time it happened, I’d think “Is this the person?” I remember once a man stopping me to ask for a photo and I said no, I felt so uncomfortable.
‘Living that way, in a constant state of alertness, felt very frightening. And, like a lioness, I wasn’t going to let anyone harm my family.’
Louise admits that in the immediate aftermath of the threats, she seriously considered quitting her BBC Breakfast role.
‘I felt so guilty that my job had brought this into my family’s life. I asked myself why would I do a job where someone goes after my children, why would I do this to my family? Being a mother has always been my number-one job and all I cared about was protecting them, so I was out. Nothing was worth this.
‘It was Mia and Scarlett who stopped me. They insisted I must not quit my job, because that would mean this person winning.’
With her family’s support and encouragement, Louise carried on with her presenting duties through the rest of 2020 and into the following year, while police hunted down her stalker.
‘When I was at work, I didn’t think about whether this person was watching me; I was just doing my job. I’m thankful for that as otherwise it would have been very unsettling and really affected how I worked.
‘The BBC was very supportive, as were my colleagues, and I was told that if I ever needed time off, I should take it. But I never missed a day because of it.’
In March 2021 came a breakthrough. Louise’s stalker was identified and charged, then bailed until later that year.
Former soldier Carl Davies, 44, of Flint, North Wales, had previously stalked his ex-partner, the Girls Aloud singer Nicola Roberts, for five years, threatening to stab and burn her, and had been given a 15-month suspended sentence and restraining order in 2017.
Why he then turned his attention to Louise who refuses to even speak his name – and her daughter is not something she dwells ‘The why is none of my business. I don’t care, it’s not relevant to me. It was nothing I did or could have done differently. I found out, because it was reported in the press, that he had a previous conviction and I wasn’t surprised. This is a behaviour people repeat.’
Last December, Davies appeared in Mold Crown Court, pleading guilty to ‘causing alarm and distress’ to both Louise and Mia. ‘I was relieved that we didn’t have to attend court,’ says Louise. ‘I didn’t want to ever share a space with him or lay eyes on him
‘Hearing he’d been sent to prison [for two years and eight months], I felt such a huge sense of relief and was also gobsmacked.
‘There’s a very strong narrative– which I’d always believed to be true – that when it comes to stalking, perpetrators can’t be tracked down or charged and convicted. I shouldn’t have been surprised when my case ended the way it did, because that is what should happen. But I was genuinely amazed against the backdrop of knowing that the majority of people don’t get that outcome.’
After the relief came a realisation of just how deeply she’d been affected by the stress of the preceding 17 months. ‘You’ve been so vigilant and alert for so long, living with that sort of stress, when it’s gone it’s like coming down after a huge adrenaline rush. I realised there had been a seeping anxiety in every cell of my body, and suddenly it wasn’t there any more. From that first night after he was sentenced, I felt different.
‘Mia and I went on to have counselling and I found that very useful after this thing had come out of the blue and shaken up my life. It’s helped me understand what I can and can’t control – and not dwell on the latter– and to be a bit more emotionally measured about what happened.’
It would be understandable if Louise had wanted to leave her experience in the past. Instead, she’s chosen to lend her professional weight to trying to make a difference. In March this year she presented the ITV documentary The Truth About Stalking in which she met other survivors. She has since been contacted by countless women – and men – sharing their stories.
‘There are so many, from all walks of life, and their experiences are absolutely horrific. Talking about what happened to me – it’s really about trying to help them,’ says Louise.
Labour MP Jess Phillips, who has also been stalked, spoke with Louise as part of the documentary. She has called for the introduction of a national register, which would track and monitor serial stalkers.
Louise supports this campaign. ‘It’s a good idea and could help people. After visiting an anti-stalking unit in Cheshire while making the programme, I’d also like to see more of them around the country, offering specialist support.’
While Louise says life now feels much more normal, the experience has left an emotional legacy. ‘I started to track Mia’s location on her phone when this all began and I still do. She allows me to – she understands I need to be able to see where she is. I think there’s comfort for her in it, too.
‘It’s changed me. I’m more wary of people, more reticent about sharing stuff about my life, although I’m still on social media – partly because I need to be for work and also because I’m not going to be driven off it.’
There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when Carl Davies will be free, but Louise isn’t dwelling on it. ‘For now, I’m OK, we’re all OK and hopefully we’ll continue to be. I don’t spend time thinking about when he’s released, not right now, because I’m just enjoying the moment.’
And what a moment life after her ordeal is proving to be. Last September, she presented BBC Breakfast for the final time. It was, she insists, a decision completely unconnected to her stalking experience.
‘The main reason was the hours. There’s an assumption you get used to them but I never got used to getting up at 3.45am and it wasn’t good for me. I loved the role but for years I lived in a cycle of tiredness, having to be incredibly regimented and organised about everything from my social life and bedtime to what I ate.
‘Also, it was approaching my 20th anniversary there and I felt it had come to a natural end. My husband had always said, you’ll know when it’s over, and I did.
‘I wanted to leave while I still loved the job. It was time for me to say goodbye and get some sleep!’
Louise’s book Dare to Tri: My Journey from the BBC Breakfast Sofa to GB Team Triathlete is published by Bloomsbury, price £12.99.* Her Wattbike podcast is also out now, with a new series to come in September
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