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West Yorkshire Probation Trust holds conference on women's safety
The mum of a young woman who was killed by her stalker told of her ordeal during a conference on women’s safety in Saltaire yesterday.
Tricia Bernal, founder of charity Protection Against Stalking, successfully campaigned for an anti-stalking law after her 22-year-old daughter Clare was murdered by former Slovakian soldier Michael Perch in 2005.
The conference at Victoria Hall, organised by the West Yorkshire Probation Trust, heard how 30-year-old Perch was a security guard at Harvey Nichols in London where Clare worked as a beauty consultant.
They dated for three weeks, but when their relationship ended he had started following her, pestering her with phone calls, standing outside her house and bombarding her with text messages.
A short time later he was arrested for breaking a restraining order and found guilty of harassment, but while awaiting sentence he went to Slovakia and bought a gun.
On September 13, 2005, just as Harvey Nichols was due to close, he walked up behind Clare and shot her four times in the head before turning the gun on himself.
After her daughter’s death, Tricia campaigned for a change in the law so stalking would be recognised as a criminal offence. Earlier this year, Prime Minister David Cameron announced new anti-stalking legislation would come into force on November 25.
Speaking after addressing the conference, Tricia said she shared her story to raise awareness of stalking and the need for complaints to be taken seriously.
“By hearing my story, people will remember. It makes it real.
“Stalking isn’t easy to define, but I always say that if you’re having to change your routine because of someone, or are feeling threatened, follow your instinct.
“Most people don’t report stalking until after 100 different incidents. On their own these things could be something like being sent a bouquet of flowers or a love letter, but in the context of a number of incidents it’s a way of saying, ‘I’m here and I’m not going away’.
“When a relationship ends, there’s always going to be one person who’s more hurt than the other, but most people will get the message. In Clare’s case, it became stalking.”
The conference also heard a presentation from Laura Richards, a specialist adviser to the Independent Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform Campaign, who is also part of Protection Against Stalking.
She said a previous lack of distinction between stalking and harassment meant stalking cases were often classed in the same criminal terms as “neighbours fighting over boundaries”.
Speaking about a number of cases where people were murdered by their stalkers, she told delegates: “We must honour the victims and learn from their deaths. The change in the law signals how serious this is.”