Every year, women in the UK are killed by stalkers and domestic abusers—despite previously reporting them to the police. Unfollow Me is a campaign highlighting the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse in support of anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register in the UK. Follow all of our coverage here.
Exclusive data uncovered by Broadly under British freedom of information laws found that seven women died by suspected suicide in the last five years after experiencing domestic violence incidents involving intimate partners, ex-partners, or family members.
Broadly asked the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which oversees policing in the UK, how many cases it investigated between 2012 and 2017 in which a woman reported an abusive partner, ex-partner, or stalker to police for criminal activity and later died by suicide.
The IOPC told us that there were seven cases in which a woman involved in a domestic-related incident went on to die as a result of self-inflicted injuries. (Not all the identified cases resulted in a coroner recording a definitive suicide verdict.) In all the cases where information was made publicly available, the woman had contact with police prior to their death.
The Metropolitan Police—the largest police force in the UK and responsible for law enforcement in Greater London—was twice investigated by the IOPC in the case of two such deaths. South Wales Police, Leicestershire Police, Staffordshire Police, and Nottinghamshire Police were all investigated in the case of one death. All the forces referred themselves to the IOPC for investigation. Four investigations were closed in the cases where the victim's name was disclosed; one is currently still ongoing. None of the closed investigations found evidence of police misconduct.
The IOPC shared five of the victims’ names and withheld two for reasons of privacy. One of the victims named was 46-year-old Justene Reece, who died by suicide on February 22, 2017. Stafford-based Reece was being stalked and harassed by her ex-partner, Nicholas Allen, at the time of her death. Allen, who had a string of convictions for assaulting and harassing previous partners, had subjected Reece to a sustained campaign of stalking and harassment.
During their relationship, Allen fitted a tracker on Reece’s scooter, bombarded her with messages, and even physically assaulted her when she tried to leave her house. After Reece escaped to a women’s refuge, he attempted to contact her 3,473 times over a five and a half month period.
Watch: Unfollow Me: The Story of Meera Dalal
Reece obtained a non-molestation order against him, but he breached it within three days by trying to contact her on social media. Allen also threatened her son, contacted her employers, and posted offensive pictures of her mother’s grave online. Broadly’s IOPC data reveals that contact was made with police about Allen’s abuse just two days before her suicide.
In a highly unusual case, Allen was convicted of manslaughter after Reece’s death and jailed for ten years in 2017. “Allen subjected Justene and those close to her to a sustained campaign of torment until she was unable to endure his behaviour any longer,” Hannah Sidaway of the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement. “There is no doubt he ultimately caused her to take her own life.” The IOPC is still investigating Reece’s death to determine whether officers adequately handled her complaints about Allen’s stalking.
Today’s figures reveal the psychological toll that stalking and domestic abuse can take on its victims. Twenty-five-year-old singer Chloe Hopkins knows this all too well: She attempted suicide after being stalked for seven years by Anthony Mantova. He was later sent to jail thrice for harassment and breaching restraining orders that banned him from contacting Hopkins.
Hopkins met Mantova in 2010. The then-18-year-old beauty queen had been invited to turn on the Christmas lights in her hometown of Prestatyn, Wales, and she and her her friends talked to him afterwards as they felt sorry that he was by himself in the pub. “It was a few seconds of kindness to a stranger that led to seven years of stalking,” she tells Broadly.
Mantova had Hopkin’s name tattooed on his chest, sent her abusive Facebook messages (one read “face facts: you are hated by many”), and stood outside her home for hours. Hopkins says that he followed her to different cities to watch her perform and even started a petition falsely accusing her of hating disabled people (Mantova has multiple sclerosis).
Hopkins’ own singing career began to falter under the strain of Mantova’s stalking, and she grew paranoid that her friends and family would believe her stalker over her. "I was so desperate because I didn’t know who I could trust any more. I didn’t know who was there for me. I didn’t know if I had a career. I felt very isolated and alone." She tried to take her own life in 2012. "I just got sick. There was a thought process going around in my head that was, like, what have I done that’s so bad?"
Not all of the cases provided by the IOPC involved stalking, as in Reece’s case. But the women involved in at least five of the cases died of self-inflicted injuries after police were called about a domestic-related incident.
In one case, Lisa Moller, 35, from Barry in Wales, hanged herself just a few hours after police were called twice to her house by a concerned neighbor who heard Moller shouting to her partner Joseph Ashenhurst, “You strangled me, get out, get out.” After Moller’s suicide, her mother Angela described Ashenhurst as “very possessive and demanding.” Ashenhurst denied domestic abuse at the inquest, saying: “We had our ups and downs but there was never any violence from me or from her.” The coroner concluded that there was “no doubt” Moller was “abused verbally” by Ashenhurst, but there was “no evidence of physical abuse.”
Another of the cases provided by the IOPC involved 25-year-old Meera Dalal from Leicester, England. An inquest heard that she died by suicide at her family home in February 2016 after being stalked by her violent and controlling ex-partner. (Her ex cannot be named for legal reasons.) Her mother Daksha told Broadly that Meera’s ex turned up outside the family home, withheld her passport, and forced her to transfer him large sums of money.
An Independent Police Complaints Commission (the police watchdog now known as the IOPC) report reviewed by Broadly revealed that Dalal spoke with officers on multiple occasions in the months and years preceding her death. She told police that she was a victim of domestic abuse but repeatedly declined to press charges against the alleged perpetrator. Her family believe this was because she thought he would retaliate against them.
“He kept harassing her,” Daksha told Broadly. “He’d stalk her, he’d phone her up, harass her, and go to her work. She said to me two weeks before she passed away, ‘I’m not safe in this country.’”
In the days leading up to her death, Daksha says that Dalal seemed preoccupied. “She hugged me,” Daksha says. “She wouldn’t let go of me, really.” The IPCC investigation into her contact with police after her death determined that there was insufficient evidence to show that police officers had behaved improperly or breached their duties and responsibilities towards Dalal.
"We investigate a small number of cases of self-inflicted deaths of women following domestic-related incidents reported to the police in England and Wales—seven over the last five years. Not all have had a coroner determine suicide, and while police had contact that was domestic in nature nor do all the cases feature domestic abuse. What is clear is that each of these deaths is a tragic loss for the families involved, and it is important that each one is thoroughly investigated," an IOPC spokesperson told Broadly.
“Police forces have a duty of care to women who report domestic incidents, as they do to anyone they come into contact with. Our investigations in these cases look at the prior police contact and whether officers followed the appropriate procedures and policies, and if they correctly managed any potential risks. The questions raised in our investigations into deaths following police contact often go wider than the police forces, as officers can often be dealing with vulnerable people whose needs may not have been adequately met elsewhere."
"I remember thinking to myself, I need to fight. Remember who you are. There’s got to be a way to stop this."
The causes of suicide are complex and multifaceted. As mental health charity Samaritans notes on its website: “There is no simple explanation for why someone chooses to die by suicide and it is rarely due to one particular factor. Mental health problems are important influences, as well as alcohol and substance misuse, feeling desperate, helpless or without hope.”
Advocates for stalking survivors believe that police must improve their handling of such cases. "Many women do call the police about the abuse, like Justene Reece, but the police rarely see the pattern of abuse when they attend 'the incident' nor do they ask the right questions,” Laura Richards of anti-stalking charity Paladin says. “If a victim feels that they are not believed and feel helpless and hopeless and that there is no end to the abuse, they may take their own life.”
Many stalkers and domestic abuse perpetrators are serial offenders, she says, and introducing a Stalkers Register in the UK would track and manage such individuals: “The Stalkers Register is vital to protect women and girls from serious harm and homicide." Previous data unearthed by Broadly under FOI laws revealed that 49 women have been killed by stalkers, partners, or ex-partners in the last three years in the UK—even after reporting them to the police for their harassment.
Five years on from her suicide attempt, Hopkins has moved on from her stalking ordeal and no longer feels the same desperation or hopelessness. As she recovered in hospital, Hopkins decided that she wasn’t going to let Mantova win. “I remember thinking to myself, I need to fight. Remember who you are. There’s got to be a way to stop this.”
She credits the support she received as part of a community of stalking survivors backed by Paladin as helping her to move forward. “It made me feel like I’m not on my own any more. There are other people who’ve been through it and know how it feels.” Still, Hopkins was reduced to tears when she saw a news report about Reece’s suicide. “I knew exactly what she was going through,” she says. “I knew exactly how she felt.”
If you are being stalked and you are based in the UK, you can call Paladin on 020 3866 4107. If you are based in the US, you can call the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime on 855-484-2846.