Stalker who threatened to rape BBC presenter jailed for 30 months

A man who threatened to rape a regional news presenter in “grossly violent and offensive” greetings cards, has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Gordon Hawthorn, 69, admitted stalking Alex Lovell by sending 38 cards to her at BBC Points West in Bristol.

Sent over a six year period, some of his messages included claims that he had attacked five other women.

They were signed with a distinctive set of five crosses and initially the name “Gordon”.

As they grew more sinister over the past two years, Hawthorn signed them “your stalker” or “your soon to be rapist”.

Jailing him, Bristol Crown Court judge Martin Picton said the letters had made Ms Lovell “frightened and miserable”. He also imposed an indefinite restraining order, preventing him from contacting Ms Lovell or visiting the BBC in Bristol.

Hawthorn, from Street in Somerset, was identified after another woman, Jessica Harding, who had worked in a pub where Hawthorn drank, came forward following a police appeal, to say she had received a Valentine’s Day card that matched those sent to Ms Lovell.

The judge described Hawthorn’s cards as “disgusting and frightening” and said they contained “grossly violent and offensive material”.

“People in the public eye are entitled to the same respect and privacy as everyone else in society,” the judge said. “The fact that someone has a high public profile does not mean that it can be open season for people such as yourself. You need to understand, as does the public in general, that serious consequences result from appalling behaviour of the kind that features in this case.

“For two years, she could never be sure that she was safe. Ms Lovell would have an awareness, whenever she was on screen, that the author of those letters was watching and thinking the kind of thoughts that you expressed in your messages to her. When out and about she could never be sure that the author of the cards was not spying on her or posing a threat to her safety.”

Ms Lovell, 45, who has been presenting on BBC Points West since 2005, said she had suffered panic attacks and at times had been “convinced he was near”.

“He said… that he was watching, that he was close enough to smell my hair,” she told the court. “There were four years of cards that were just filthy, and then suddenly there were two years of threats that got progressively worse. He would talk about how he was going to do it and it was very physical.

“In my mind he was sexually aggressive, misogynistic, strong and frightening.”

In a victim statement, Ms Lovell said she had been looking over her shoulder wondering whether her stalker was nearby every day since receiving the first threat.

Security measures were increased at the BBC and at the home she shares with her husband.

Prosecuting, Nikki Coombe said the cards described what Ms Lovell had been wearing on television became more “graphic and distressing”.

The presenter told police that reading his rape threat “caused her blood to run cold”, Mrs Coombe said.

Hawthorn had earlier pleaded guilty at the city’s magistrates’ court to stalking involving serious alarm or distress.

In police interview, he said he never intended to harm Ms Lovell and described his threats as a “fantasy”.

“He also sent Ms Lovell an apology card after the media appeal, describing himself as a stupid old fool, saying he wasn’t a threat to her and promising not to contact her again,” Ms Coombe said.

Representing Hawthorn, Catherine Spedding said her client was remorseful and had been in a relationship with his 74-year-old partner for 34 years.

After the case, Ms Lovell appealed for victims of stalking to “tell someone who can help”.

“The nightmare is finally over and I’d once again like to thank my friends and family, BBC colleagues and police for all their help and support,” she said.

“If there is one positive I can take from this ordeal, it is the messages from people who have said that seeing the court case unfold has given them the strength do something about their own situation.

“Stalking can happen to anyone and can take many forms but please don’t wait until the situation has become extreme to tell someone who can help.

Detective Chief Inspector Simon Brickwood, of Avon and Somerset Police, paid tribute to Ms Lovell’s bravery in speaking out. 

He said Hawthorn was now “paying the price for his cruel campaign of harassment”. Asked how he felt after being caught, Hawthorn said: “Disgusted with what I’ve done. Like I say it’s really an obsession and pure fantasy on my part.”

Main reporting by the Press Association

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