A man who stalked a woman he became obsessed with, breaching a restraining order to bombard her with hundreds of messages, has been jailed.
Andrew Costa-Freeman, 24, of Londsale Avenue, Newham was sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Thursday, 8 August to a total of two years’ imprisonment after admitting to stalking involving serious alarm or distress, and breaching a restraining order.
The case was brought to court following a rigorous investigation led by officers attached to the Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (STAC), whose specialist expertise ensured a successful prosecution and the best possible victim support.
Costa-Freeman met his victim, a woman in her mid-20s, through mutual friends in 2015.
They exchanged messages through WhatsApp and initially got on well, but when he said he had feelings for her, she asked him to stop contacting her.
He did not heed her request, however, and the number of messages increased with the contact continuing for several years.
The victim first ignored the messages but then contacted police; police issued Costa-Freeman with a first instance harassment warning in March 2019. He admitted to sending the messages.
Just a week later, Costa-Freeman contacted the victim and stated that he would keep sending messages despite the warning, which he went on to do using Facebook Messenger.
He was subsequently arrested and charged with stalking involving fear of violence.
He was remanded to appear at East London Magistrates’ Court on Friday, 29 March where he received a suspended sentence, and a restraining order with a condition not to contact the victim.
However, this did not deter Costa-Freeman. Over five days in May 2019 using Facebook Messenger again, he set up different user accounts to evade attempts by the victim to block him, and he sent in excess of 520 messages, some of which were aggressive and sexually explicit.
On Thursday, 30 May, Freeman was again arrested at his home address, and charged with stalking involving serious alarm or distress, and breach of a restraining order. He first appeared at East London Magistrates’ Court on Friday, 31 May, pleading guilty.
PC Lindsey Monk, from STAC, said: “Costa-Freeman’s behaviour has had a profound effect on the victim’s day-to-day life. After he was convicted on the first occasion the victim felt that she would get her life back but this was not the case as Costa-Freeman’s pursuit of her continued and intensified, causing the victim more distress.”
The Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (STAC) is a collaborative multi-agency partnership, which is part of the innovative Multi-Agency Stalking Intervention Programme (MASIP).
MASIP, which has three UK sites, aims to keep victims of stalking safe by reducing reoffending and addressing the obsession and fixation of perpetrators.
At STAC, which opened in September 2018, Met officers work alongside health professionals from Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust, the National Probation Service and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which manages the MASIP project and provides specialist advocacy and support to victims of stalking.
The STAC team review all reported stalking cases across the whole of London and offer expert advice to local borough officers in relation to stalking allegations. They then identify risk factors, and assist with management plans to protect the victim and public from the stalker. The unit is developing innovative approaches to more effectively tackle stalking and prevent further harm to victims.
The National Probation Service works alongside officers to manage the ongoing risk such offenders pose to the community and to their victim. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust provide dedicated victim advocates to support victims of such crimes.
Detective Inspector Lee Barnard, the Met’s STAC lead, said: “Costa-Freeman’s behaviour was indicative of a stalker seeking intimacy, blindly pursuing a relationship and being spurred on rather than deterred by the rejections.
“This case is another example of how devastating an impact stalking has on the lives of those targeted. It is an unwarranted intrusion, and victims are left to feel vulnerable, distressed and threatened.
“Victims of these offences sometimes feel that they have no control of the situation, and often don’t know where to turn and when to seek help. The Met takes all stalking allegations very seriously, and the sooner we know, the sooner we can act and deal with the perpetrator, and provide the necessary support to those affected.”
If you think you are being stalked, or you know someone who is, contact police on 101 or 999 if you are in immediate danger. You can also visit your local police station. Alternatively, you can report online
You can also call the National Stalking Helpline and its attached advocacy service (run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust) on 0808 802 0300, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.