A Bexhill man has been jailed for stalking his wife by pretending to be an old friend on social media, police say
Police say Paul Playle, 43, unemployed, of Turkey Road, Bexhill, was sentenced at Hove Crown Court on Wednesday (24 January) to three-and-a-half years for controlling and coercive behaviour and stalking. Both sentences are to run concurrently. He was also given a restraining order, police said.
He had been convicted on November 24 after a trial, and had been in custody to await sentencing.
The prosecution followed an investigation by detectives from the East Sussex Safeguarding Investigations Unit.
The victim was Playle's wife who had reported to police in February 2017 that she had been receiving Facebook and email contact from someone she believed to be an old friend for nearly 18 months.
She told officers that over the last six months this contact had become more unpleasant and personal with detailed knowledge of her movements and family life, police say.
Police say abusive and embarrassing messages also began to be sent to her friends, family and work colleagues. The source of the messaging was not clear but the report was followed up that month and police took steps were to give protection to the victim and her family.
There was still no indication of the source of the messaging, but detectives soon realised that the detailed knowledge of the victim and her life must mean that someone very close to her was involved.
Playle was arrested in March but denied any guilt and was released on bail.
At this stage the messaging stopped, but later in the summer, while Playle was still on bail, the messaging resumed. Police were eventually able to confirm that some emails used by the stalker had been through Playle's home router.
He was later charged on two counts - one of stalking and one of coercive and one of controlling behaviour. Playle denied the offences, claiming that the stalker had 'stitched him up' but was found guilty of both charges.
Detective Constable David Gibbs of the East Sussex Safeguarding Investigations Unit said: "This was a very distressing period for the victim when she believed she was being targeted by an old friend. It had a massive impact on her and her family and friends. She was scared to leave home and scared for her family. However it became even more distressing for her when it was established her husband had in fact been pretending to be the old friend and causing her fear.
"This was a harrowing stalking case and we were fearful that the victim would come to harm. We spent a lot of time making her and her family, including her husband, safe and offering support. It was a real shock when the evidence showed that it was her husband that was committing the offence. We worked hard to secure the evidence to show his guilt and this was reflected in the court result.
"Sussex Police take stalking seriously and recognise the effect it can have on victims. I would encourage anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation to contact us, either by calling 101, or on line. We can also arrange access to a range of support and counselling services.”
The victim said: "Just under two years ago my stalking began and for nearly a year I thought I would stop. I did not contact the police or seek help as I thought the police could not help me or take it seriously.
"Once I did get the courage to contact Sussex Police they were fully supportive and very understanding. I can’t thank them enough for all their support and help that I received, especially as once they started investigating the case it was discovered that my stalker was someone who I was very close to and trusted.
"I can’t thank the police enough for all their help and support to my family and myself. They continue to support me even after the guilty verdict.
"I would say to anyone being stalked or harassed go to the police - they will help and support you and they take stalking crimes very seriously."
Information about what to do if you are being stalked can be found at www.sussex.police.uk/advice/support-for-victims/stalking-and-harassment/