Newsmaker: Dangerous liaisons - Tracey Morgan, Founder, Network for Surviving Stalking

Indira Das Gupta

It's a common saying that you've only made it as a celebrity when you've got a stalker. But as Tracey Morgan, founder and director of Network for Surviving Stalking, knows from bitter experience, nothing could be further from the truth. "In reality, you are much more likely to be stalked if you are an ordinary member of the public than a celebrity," she says.

It is estimated that there are nearly 1 million victims of stalking in the UK alone, according to the British Crime Survey. About 80 per cent of victims are women, although Morgan is keen to emphasise that it can happen to men as well.

The charity that Morgan set up to address the problem, Network for Surviving Stalking, has actually been around since 1996, but only came to public attention a couple of weeks ago when she announced her plan to set up an online survey of stalking. Morgan has joined forces with Lorraine Sheridan from Leicester University to conduct the study. Sheridan has studied the subject for seven years and is regarded as the UK's leading expert on stalking.

"Stalkers may be craving power, seeking revenge or believe they should be with their victim," Sheridan says. "The biggest group of stalkers are former partners. In these cases it is an extension of domestic abuse."

Morgan's own ordeal started in 1992 when she was a 24 year-old married woman working on a naval base in Hampshire. "I don't think the word stalking was even known back then," she observes. She took pity on Anthony Burstow, a colleague who was a loner, and befriended him. That was the start of a stalking campaign lasting nearly 10 years that destroyed Morgan's marriage and eventually led to a nervous breakdown. "Being nice to him was the worst thing I ever did," says Morgan.

Morgan's story makes Fatal Attraction seem like some sort of light-hearted romantic comedy, but what makes it all the more terrifying is that it's true. Not only did Burstow follow Morgan wherever she went, but he bugged her house and office, and even changed his surname by deed poll to that of her ex-boyfriend to get access to information about her past. It also later emerged that he made enquiries about taking out a contract on her husband's life. He targeted her family and friends.

Eventually the situation took its toll on her marriage and Morgan and her husband split up. She was forced to move in with her parents, and it is testimony to her inner strength that throughout she didn't lose her sanity.

Two police officers involved in Morgan's case sympathised with her plight but had their hands tied because there was not any legislation to deal with stalking. They persuaded her to go public with her story to highlight the problem and eventually collated enough evidence to bring a test case against Burstow. In March 1996, he became the first person in the UK to be convicted of 'psychological grievous bodily harm'. After serving 15 months of his three-year sentence he continued to stalk Morgan, but the conviction was a landmark nonetheless.

It was around this time that Diana Lamplugh, the mother of murdered estate agent Suzy, came on board. "Diana told me that she was reading about my case in the paper when she suddenly realised that Suzy had been a victim of stalking too," says Morgan. As Morgan talks about her experience, there is an unmistakable nervous edge to her voice, but she recalls the events almost matter-of-factly and never resorts to calling her stalker names.

After Burstow's conviction, Diana Lamplugh, the assistant chief constable of Sussex, Maria Wallis, and the two police officers involved in the case met with Morgan to launch a campaign for a specific law against stalking.

Their efforts were rewarded with the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act.

The campaign was also the birth of the Network for Surviving Stalking.

"When I went public, I got letters from other victims," explains Morgan. "It was a huge relief to know that I wasn't the only one. But it also made me realise there was no support for people like us."

With the help of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Morgan applied for funding to set up a helpline, but was unsuccessful. Through all of this, she was running the charity while working full-time as a personnel administrator.

In fact, despite being a member of the Home Office Victims' Advisory Panel chaired by Baroness Scotland, the network only received funding for the first time a month ago. The £30,000 from the Lloyds TSB Foundation for a director's salary for the next 18 months is another milestone for the network. "It's fantastic," says Morgan. "It means we can develop the charity and move onward and upwards."

It took another four years after the law was changed for Burstow to be locked away for good. He attacked another victim, an ex-girlfriend, with a knife and was convicted of attempted murder. Ironically, his conviction caused Morgan to have a nervous breakdown. "I think it was because it was finally over," she says.

Since her recovery, Morgan has campaigned even harder and is determined to raise the profile of the issue through the online survey. The results of the study will be published in January, which Morgan plans to designate Stalking Awareness Month.

"The law might have changed, but attitudes haven't," explains Morgan. "Victims still tell me that when they go to the police they face comments like, 'I'd be flattered if someone paid me that much attention'."

Morgan will not stop until stalking is recognised as a problem that can and does lead to murder. She says: "Stalking is not just a crime, but virtually a way of life for the perpetrators which can go on for years." She should know.

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