Imagine a stranger stopping you in an empty street and telling you details of your family’s private life. Imagine he then tells you he knows where you live.
For Lorraine, a mother-of-three from St Leonards, this was the unsettling experience in 2007 which marked her first encounter with obsessive stalker Sherzad Salih.
Lorraine would be followed by Salih – a 38-year-old driver of St Paul’s Place, St Leonards – for more than 10 years before he was jailed on a charge of stalking involving a fear of violence earlier this month.
“I was coming home from work and I was just sitting in my car when he came up to me carrying a single red rose,” said Lorraine, describing her first meeting with Salih.
“I just thought he was lost but he held out this red rose and asked me to go out with him. I said no but he was insistent. He kept saying ‘please give me chance’ and I kept saying ‘no, no’. I was feeling really uncomfortable and thinking I need to get out of here because this guy is really weird. There was something about him that wasn’t right, it wasn’t just some normal guy being pushy.
“Then he said, ‘please give me a chance, I know a lot about you’. So I said ‘what do you know about me’ and he told me he knew where I lived. He told me my address.
“I asked him what else he knew about me. He knew the names of my children, he knew I had been divorced for a year, there were quite a lot of things he knew about me.
“And he told me he’d been watching me for a year.
“I told him to leave me alone and started to drive away. He handed me this card which said, ‘please give me a chance, I knew you’d say no but give me a chance’. I drove away absolutely terrified. When I got home I told my children who said he’d been waiting outside the house.”
Lorraine immediately reported her encounter to Sussex Police. She was interviewed that evening by Hastings CID, who warned her a woman had been seriously assaulted in what they thought were similar circumstances in the weeks before. The detectives took the rose and the card Salih had handed her for forensic testing and told her dial 999 if she saw him again.
“After that it was mental,” Lorraine said.
“I still don’t know if any of this was linked to it, but my tyres started to be let down, my cat was killed. We buried it and it was dug up twice. We’d put a big slab on top of it and the slab was physically moved. It wasn’t animals. There’s no way that was animals.
“At one point my car was moved. I only found out when the police called me to say it was in the road. I was getting lots of obscene phone calls. At home and then at work. My work had to move me to a different office.
“Some of it I knew was him but some of it I wasn’t sure about. I was living in fear. I stopped going out, stopped socialising. I’m normally quite a sociable person but I just stopped. I had security cameras put up and I got a dog because it made me feel safer.”
The unwanted contact and calls continued for several years and in 2009, when Lorraine joined Facebook, she began to receive obscene messages online as well.
Lorraine says she reported many of these incidents to police but after several years she had lost faith with the police, feeling her reports had no effect.
Lorraine said: “I just think the police need more training. I mean, they have been trained to a degree, but what I found interesting was that it would depend on who you got on the day. Some would try to minimise it and say ‘it’s not the worse case’ but some would say ‘oh this is really bad’. It just depended on who you spoke to on the day.
“The first time I reported it they were excellent, but after that. When I told them about the cat they said ‘it must have been badgers’. I asked them to come out but they refused. I told them about the Facebook messages and they said they thought they knew who it was and they said they’d been in touch with him and asked him to leave me alone. I’m not sure they did though.”
Salih continued to stalk Lorraine on and off for close to 10 years. He would approach her in street or would wait outside her home and work. Sometimes he appeared to stop for long periods of time. But, as Lorraine would later learn from the police investigation, he had also been following her undetected.
At the beginning of this year Salih approached her again several times while she was walking her dog. In July Lorraine realised Salih was following her in his car as she drove through Hastings. Lorraine reported it to police after capturing his behaviour on her dash cam.
Lorraine said: “The police took him in for questioning and he admitted most of it. He didn’t admit to the cat, or the tyres or a lot of the other things I thought might be connected to it, but he admitted to most of it. He told them I should have been flattered by the attention.”
Salih was released on bail but continued to stalk Lorraine despite being under investigation. She saw him outside her home on several occasions and, Lorraine says, he had even followed her daughter.
On October 10 he appeared at Hove Crown Court and admitted to the stalking charge. He was jailed for four years and given an indefinite Restraining Order, which requires him to stay far away from Lorraine.
Lorraine said: “I feel safe now but he’ll only serve half his sentence. He’ll be out in under two years. He was given a big restriction. I was told I wasn’t going to get it but I did. It covers most of Hastings.
“I’m going to enjoy the next two years but I’m worried about what happens when he comes out. I think he is a dangerous man and I do believe that when he comes out I will be seeing him again.”
In speaking about her experiences, Lorraine wants others to know about the support available to stalking victims and shares her advice on what you should do if you find yourself in the same position.
“Go to the police and insist. Insist they look into it and insist they go and look at the guidelines at how it should be investigated. Don’t be worried about telling people about it. You should keep a log as well, because police have got to have enough evidence. Get dash cams. Dash cams saved my life because they got me my evidence. I would recommend getting in touch with the stalking helplines as a priority. There’s the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Veritas Justice, which is a (Sussex-based) advocacy group that liaises with police on behalf of victims. Vertias were brilliant with me and it was them who helped me get the restriction order I did. Sam and Claudia were amazing.”
• To contact the National Stalking Helpline for free advice call 0808 802 0300.