A MIDDLE-AGED woman targeted by a stalker for seven years has spoken of her anguish after a judge told her yesterday that her tormentor would be released within a few months.

Theresa Helstrip, 55, a receptionist, has been plagued by the unwanted attentions of Stephen Moss, 51, ever since she stopped for a brief chat outside a Netto supermarket in Layerthorpe, York, in 1999. The friendly exchange was the start of a fixation which she described as ?every woman?s nightmare?. She became fearful of going out at night in case he was lurking with his incessant pleas to be her friend. 
 
Moss was jailed for 14 months at York Crown Court yesterday for breaching a restraining order within a week of being released from prison.

Because he pleaded guilty Moss will serve only half of his sentence, less the 60 days he has already spent behind bars.

Judge Scott Wolstenholme told him that he would remain on licence for the rest of his sentence, and would face severe penalties for any further breach. He said: ?If I had the power to order you to go and live in another part of the country and never go near her again, I would. But I do not have that power.?

Mrs Helstrip, a mother of two, criticised the court process as a waste of public money that had left her feeling ?totally unprotected?.

After the sentencing she said: ?I feel totally let down. Nobody seems to be looking at what I am going through. I have been going through this for seven years. Anybody with half a brain would know he was going to do it again and again.?

Mrs Helstrip recalled the day when the stalking began. She was locking up her bicycle outside the supermarket when Moss engaged her in conversation.

He then began waiting at the same spot every Thursday, when Mrs Helstrip arrived to do the family shopping. He began following her home, lurking outside her place of work and sending her dozens of unwanted letters. His incessant stalking in and around York left her so fearful that she was prescribed antidepressants. He was never overtly aggressive or violent but said that he merely wanted to be her friend.

Rosemary Ainslie, for the prosecution, said that Moss had been given two suspended sentences before he was sent to jail in January for five months for yet another breach of his restraining order. He was released in April but within a week he was plaguing Mrs Helstrip again.

On April 17 she was cycling home when she saw Moss in an area of York from which he is banned.

That night he hand-delivered a letter which read: ?Please don?t report me to the police. I didn?t mean to see you really. I know you don?t believe me. I beg you. Please help me, help me please. Stephen?.

The court was told that Mrs Helstrip now felt vulnerable, constantly looked over her shoulder and had trouble sleeping. Mrs Ainslie said: ?Mrs Helstrip feels her life has been violated and that it [the stalking] will never end.?

HOW THE LENGTH OF SENTENCE WAS SET
  • Judge Wolstenholme had only a little discretion over the length of sentence
  • He had to comply with sentencing precedent set by the Court of Appeal or, more recently, the Sentencing Guidelines Council
  • The judge had a sentence starting point that could be adjusted up or down based on mitigating or aggravating features
  • Stephen Moss would have attracted up to a third off his sentence for a guilty plea
  • An aggravating feature was his persistent breaching of a restraining order forbidding him to enter an exclusion zone or contact his victim
  • The ?benign? nature of his offences ? he was not violent or regarded as such ? was a mitigating factor 
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