A woman has been jailed for stalking a Wiltshire police officer, his new girlfriend and her housemate in a lengthy “surveillance operation” designed to “cause very real distress”.
Former Gogglebox researcher Rachel Barnes, 27, was sentenced at Swindon Crown Court today (31 January), having previously admitted two counts of stalking and one count of stalking causing serious alarm or distress.
She began surveilling PC William Saunders after the pair agreed to meet for no strings attached sex after talking on the dating website Hinge, but they had both agreed they did not want a relationship. He later told Barnes he no longer wanted to meet or talk.
Disgruntled to discover the Swindon-based police officer had started a new relationship shortly after their encounter, scorned Barnes started her own investigation – finding out private information about his new lover.
The defendant, of Gas Lane, Cricklade, visited Faringdon – where the couple both live, but at separate addresses – on more than 400 occasions, according to mobile phone analysis.
The officer’s new partner, police investigator Catherine Baird, found herself at the heart of Barnes’ offending in January 2021. She was falsely and maliciously reported to Thames Valley Police for allowing PC Saunders to visit her home, which at the time, would have put her in breach of Covid regulations.
The former English Heritage marketing assistant even visited Gablecross Police Station on several occasions. On one, officers confronted her in the visitor car park, where she was found to be drink-driving and later convicted.
She created fake social media profiles and added PC Saunders, Miss Baird and her housemate, and on other occasions, posed as a delivery driver in order to get them to open to the door.
She said Barnes “must have followed me at some point to find out where I live”, telling of how she brought her planned house move forward, borrowing money to do so. She also forked out hundreds of pounds on CCTV cameras and a Ring doorbell.
In a victim impact statement, Miss Baird said she “wanted to curl up in a ball and cry and scream at this girl to just leave me alone”, with the persistent harassment affecting her work life.
“Prior to her inserting herself into my life, I was doing well in work and progressing well. This has now stopped and it is all down to her fixated and obsessive behaviour”, she said.
Due to the stress and anxiety faced by Miss Baird, she had to take nearly a month of work after her sergeant told her she was missing her “spark” and as a result, she could not be supported to take her detective’s qualification.
Adding: “The whole ordeal of fearing my stalker knew my address caused a decline in my mental health and in turn, it affected my performance at work.
“She has impacted so many aspects of my life and I am still having to be mindful, even now. I have to be careful not to accidentally share my location on any phone apps… I cannot even join simple village Facebook groups for fear of her tracking me down.
“This girl’s affected my mental health, given me trauma, affected my career, hindered my professional development opportunities and affected my ability to participate in my master’s degree. This has not only impacted my life and my future, but it has also impacted my daughter’s.
“The whole situation is just bizarre, but unfortunately, I know how strange some girls can be when they get jealous. I put it down to what this is – jealousy that I was with Will and she was not.”
Judge Peter Crabtree OBE described her stalking as having a “high degree of planning” with the “intention to cause very real distress”.
“You researched your victims, conducted extensive surveillance of her and her home. In addition you created a fake Instagram account, sought information from [her housemate], and attended her home on two occasions”, he said.
He continued: “You continued to stalk Catherine in breach of bail conditions. It was certainly persistent and obsessive.”
The court heard that Barnes went on to breach a stalking protection order on four occasions several months after these offences, attaining a £100 fine at Swindon Magistrates’ Court in October 2021.
A pre-sentence report compiled by the National Probation Service suggested Barnes did not understand the level of harm caused to her victims, but posed a low risk of re-offending and could be managed in the community. The report recommended she serve a community order for her crimes.
But Judge Crabtree jailed her for 18 months after dismissing their suggestion, ruling the offending “too serious” to warrant anything other than immediate custody.
“I am satisfied, given the assessment of a pre-sentence report, that imprisonment is not required to protect the public. Additionally, there is evidence you present a realistic prospect of rehabilitation.
“The key question is whether the offences are simply too serious that only a period of immediate custody can be imposed, custody without suspension.
“In my view this is a very serious case where there are three victims of your stalking, all of whom have suffered significant harm or very significant distress.
“I conclude that only immediate custody can be justified in this case. You will go to prison for 18 months.”
A restraining order was also imposed indefinitely. Barnes is prohibited from contacting her victims, visiting any addresses which she reasonable knows her victims reside at, not engaging in surveillance of her victims (including in person or on social media) and making a complaint to any police force which she knows to be false.
Christopher Wing appeared for the prosecution. Barrister Gareth James appeared for the defence.
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