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Stalker jailed for life for murderous attack on a neighbour

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 17, 2014

Joseph Willis

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A stalker has been jailed for life for trying to kill a former neighbour in a graveyard.

Joseph Willis may never be released from jail after a Judge declared he was a danger to the public who had made victim Helen Pearson’s life a living nightmare for five years before the attack.

Willis had been Miss Pearson’s secret stalker ever since she had aroused his irrational fury by refusing to go to see a band with him.

He turned her existence into a living hell in which she became aware she was under constant secret observation and daily risk of attack.

He had already driven her to the verge of suicide with his sinister campaign of hate before he followed her as she walked through the centre of Exeter and attacker her with a pair of scissors.

He dragged her into a historic graveyard known as The Catacombs and stabbed her in the back, neck and face before her life was saved by passing motorist Sandra Robertson who came to her rescue and pushed him off her.

Willis, 49, was jailed for life after Exeter Crown Court was read a heart-rending victim impact statement in which 34-year-old Miss Pearson told how the stalking made a normal existence impossible.

She was already vulnerable because she suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder but the strain of his stalking induced an eating disorder which led her to have hospital treatment.

He targeted not only her but anyone she associated with, leaving her increasingly isolated. He vandalised her home in Exeter, her car, and her parents’ car almost daily.

He left a dead cat on her doorstep as a warning of what he intended to do to her and posted a firework through her letter box. His hate letters made it clear he was following her every move and rifling through her rubbish.

Miss Pearson criticised the police and housing authorities for not taking her complaints of stalking seriously or protecting her until it was too late.

Willis, of Cordery Road, Exeter, denied attempted murder but was found guilty at Exeter Crown Court in April.

He was jailed for life and told he would not be eligible to apply for parole for 13 years by Judge Paul Darlow, who said he was sure that Willis had carried out the five year campaign of stalking and had intended to kill his victim.

He told Willis: ”You could have spared Miss Pearson the emotional misery of the trial and having to relive her experience before a jury. Your refusal to recognise your culpability for what happened that day is an important aspect of this case.

“My finding of dangerousness in this case is based on the five years leading up to what was a sustained and vicious attack which was intended to be murderous.

“Your harassment of her was, it seems to me, was motivated out of pure malice and a desire to make her life a misery. It was designed to play on the fears she already harboured about her self image and to entrench that disorder.

“It was designed to isolate her from her friends and to attack the only network of support left open to her, her family, so as to make her afraid to go out.

“It was designed to make her home, which was her only place of refuge, a place where she was afraid to be because of what she described as the drip-drip syndrome caused by your actions.

“It was such that at one stage she tried to take her own life. The attack was a culmination of the events of the preceding five years. I have no doubt about that.

“But for the courage and the intervention of Sandra Robertson your attack could well have resulted in her death, as the jury found was your intention.

“In my judgment you represent a significant risk to the public. This offence is sufficiently serious to justify life imprisonment.”

The Judge has already made an award of £500 to motorist Ms Robertson, who stopped her car in the street when she saw Willis dragging a woman into the graveyard and ran to her help.

In the trial earlier this year Miss Pearson told how she endured years of stalking after she moved into a flat near Willis in Exe Street, Exeter.

On the morning of October 21 she was walking to a gym at nearby Tudor Street when Willis followed her down the road and attacked her with a pair of scissors.

He grabbed her by the hood of her jacket and dragged her into the St Bartholomew’s Cemetery, known locally as The Catacombs, where he pinned her down and stabbed her repeatedly in the neck and face.

Miss Pearson made a moving victim impact statement detailing how the stalking had driven her to make one unsuccessful suicide attempts and taken her to the verge of another.

She said attempts to take refuge with her parents in Crediton did not help because the stalking followed her and Willis even sent hate letters to their neighbours.

She said: ”I believed my stalker would one day attack or rape me one day. It may sound melodramatic but they were very real fears and I sensed the police did not really believe me.

“It was a drip-drip syndrome. I was always waiting for the next drop to fall. It had a huge impact on my physical and mental health. There was no escape. It was a living hell.

“The word stalking was very apt because I felt like an animal being constantly hunted. My independence was taken away by my stalker.”

She said she felt let down by the authorities and made to feel she was a nuisance.

Miss Pearson also said she has continued to suffer since Willis’s arrest because the trauma of the attack has made her afraid to go out.

Willis denied arming himself with scissors before the attack or having any intention to harm Miss Pearson.

Fiona Elder, defending, said he had a background of mental illness and had been diagnosed with a personality disorder.

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  • Hexus16  |  July 17 2014, 6:56PM

    I'm so glad this stalker has been caught and punished and I think Helen Pearson and her family are very brave to bring this to the attention of the public. I hope the police sit up and take notice; their attitude of disinterest towards stalking victims is truly appalling.

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