A woman stalked an award-winning author for 15 years after the pair met at a creative writing course, even pursuing the victim to America and threatening to kill her pets.
Sarah Stovell, a published fiction writer, became wrongly convinced she was in a relationship with Amanda Hodgkinson.
She bombarded Ms Hodgkinson with letters, messages, emails and even followed Ms Hodgkinson to a book reading in America.
Stovell also said the author’s husband would be ‘got rid of’, that her friends were ‘posh idiots’ and also threatened to kill Ms Hodgkinson’s pet chickens.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that despite the ‘one-way’ correspondence, Stovell believed Ms Hodgkinson did contact her back – via ‘cryptic’ and ‘coded’ messages only she could understand, on her internet channels.
Sarah Stovell, a published fiction writer, met Amanda Hodkinson at a creative writing group
Stovell was convinced she was in a relationship with Ms Hodgkinson and that she received messages only she could understand
Mum-of-two Ms Hodgkinson, who made it clear the feelings were not reciprocated, was left ‘exhausted’ and terrified she could be in danger.
The case is strikingly similar to Stovell’s book Exquisite, which was published in 2017 and chosen by The Times as one of the top 40 crime novels of the past 5 years.
According to Amazon UK, the plot is: ‘When two writers meet at a retreat, the chemistry is instant, and they begin a sinister relationship… or do they?’
The book is described as ‘a dark and twisted exploration about the nature of women, relationships and obsession’.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that Stovell met Ms Hodgkinson in 2005 at a creative writing course and they initially got on well.
After the class finished they kept in touch and when Ms Hodgkinson moved to France with her husband and children they corresponded via email.
Prosecutor Liam O’Brien said despite the distance, the women would discuss their literary efforts, attempts to secure publishing contracts and when Stovell’s marriage broke down Ms Hodgkinson invited her to come to France for a week, which she did, without incident.
Amanda Hodgkinson, pictured, was left ‘exhausted’ and terrified she could be in danger
Sarah Stovell was a published and successful writer. Her book Exquisite was published in 2017 and chosen by The Times as one of the top 40 crime novels of the past 5 years
The prosecutor said that the first sign that the ‘story would not have a happy ending’ was in 2006 when Ms Hodgkinson travelled to London for a meeting with a literary agent.
Stovell, who then lived in Brighton offered to meet and the women got together.
But Mr O’Brien said: ‘The complainant was shocked by the appearance of the defendant.
‘She had cut her hair short, smelled of alcohol and her clothing looked as though it had been slept in.’
Mr O’Brien added: ‘The complainant described her as strange, clingy, gazing at her with a strange intensity, not really making sense.’
The court heard Ms Hodgkinson eventually returned to the UK from France and received bizarre emails suggesting she loved Stovell, who could ‘prove this’.
Mr O’Brien continued: ‘This simply wasn’t the reality of the situation.
‘Some of the evidence the defendant put forward was bizarre.
‘For example, she suggested the fact the complainant had said her favourite television programme was a documentary about the coast and sea had relevance because of the fact the defendant lived in Brighton, by the sea.’
Mr O’Brien added: ‘For the next five years the defendant continued to harass the complainant.
‘She sent cards and letters in the post, strange messages were sent on emails and online.’
In 2011 Stovell received a caution for harassment of Ms Hodgkinson, who had published her first novel.
The court heard Stovell contacted Ms Hodgkinson’s publisher and asked for a copy of the book and turned up uninvited to a signing, where they had a ‘polite exchange’.
A week after the signing, Ms Hodgkinson travelled to the United States for a book reading.
Mr O’Brien said: ‘She described herself as shocked and horrified to realise the defendant had followed her to San Fransico.’
The court heard there was a ‘bit of a scene’ at the signing and Mr O’Brien
added: ‘She remembers it being very awkward and the defendant glaring at her with utter fury.’
When Ms Hodgkinson got back to her hotel she saw she had received emails from Stovell, which were ‘threatening in nature’ and demanded £3,00 to cover the costs of flights.
Mr O’Brien said: ‘She stated if that didn’t happen she would be sorry, she would make sure the complainant’s husband was got rid of and suggested she would kill the complainant’s pet chickens.’
The court heard between 2014 and 2016 there was a period of ‘tranquility’ and Stovell’s emails dried up.
But they eventually started up again, with some described as ‘explicit’, some ‘jovial’ and some ‘angry’.
Mr O’Brien said there were 57 pages of messages in all, which were ‘one-way traffic’ and not responded to by Ms Hodgkinson.
They included the words ‘f*** off’, ‘you have no f****** idea how to care about a person’, ‘you are a disgrace’ and ‘you are insane’.
One suggested Stovell planned to ‘get in my car today to go to Suffolk to beat you up’.
The court heard in May 2020, after still receiving no response to her unwanted communications, Stovell sent an email to Ms Hodgkinson’s adult daughter.
In it, she said she was in a ‘deeply dysfunctional yet always hopeful relationship’ with Ms Hodgkinson who, although would not reply to her correspondence in a conventional way, would send her ‘cryptic’ messages on the internet.
The court heard after Stovell was arrested and questioned on suspicion of stalking, she told officers she and Ms Hodgkinson communicated in way ‘only I understand’.
She admitted calling Ms Hodgkinson’s friends a ‘load of posh idiots’ in one email which she said she sent after ‘one too many proseccos’.
Stovell, 46, of Hexham, Northumberland, later admitted to stalking involving fear of violence between September 2018 and May 2020 on the basis she did deliberately intend to cause fear of violence.
In a victim statement, Ms Hodgkinson said she was ‘stalked for over 15 years’ and during that time has felt the effects ‘every single day’.
She said she was left ‘exhausted’ and ‘terrified’ she could be in danger from Stovell’s ‘ferocious’ behaviour.
Mr O’Brien said: ‘She believes that the defendant could be capable of inflicting serious harm on her either intentionally or recklessly.
‘She feels she will probably fear that for the rest of her life.’
Sean Summerfield, defending, said Stovell’s offending is linked to her mental health and troubled childhood and she was operating ‘under delusion’.
The court heard Stovell may have been suffering an erotomanic delusional disorder.
This is a psychiatric syndrome in which someone has a delusional belief that they are loved by another person, even someone they may never have met.
Mr Summerfield handed in references from people who described Stovell as a ‘good person’ who ‘wears her heart on her sleeve’ and is ‘struggling to find her way when it comes to relationships’.
Mr Recorder Watkin said Stovell was in an ‘other world reality’ where she had fallen in love with Ms Hodgkinson and believed she was loved back.
The recorder said both women are successful authors.
Recorder Watkin told Stovell: ‘You were deluded in thinking you were in some form of relationship with the complainant Ms Hodgkinson.
‘Nothing she said to you could, in any way, have reasonably led you to conclude that.
‘You convinced yourself of that other world reality.
‘Whatever she did was perceived as directed towards your fictional relationship with her.
‘You became overwhelmed by our emotions, you failed to maintain a realistic perspective of the reality and likely real-world consequences.
‘It seems clear you had fallen in love with her and convinced yourself, without any foundation, she had fallen in love with you.
‘She made it clear she did not reciprocate those feelings.’
The recorder said Stovell’s mental health problems do not substantially reduce her culpability for what she did but her behaviour meant Ms Hodgkinson had to make important changes to her lifestyle to avoid contact.
He added that Stovell has a realistic prospect of rehabilitation.
Stovell was sentenced to eight months, suspended for 18 months, with a 12-month community order involving rehabilitation and mental health treatment requirements.
She was issued with a lifelong restraining order to keep her away from Ms Hodgkinson and her two daughters.
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