File picture: Independent Media

East Sussex - A mother of three was left fearing for her life during a decade-long stalking campaign that began when a stranger offered her a flower as she left work.

Lorraine Mitchell, now 52, told how Sherzad Salih, 38, offered a rose and asked her on a date outside her office in Hastings, East Sussex, in 2007.

But she rebuffed him – and he spent the next ten years harassing her online, at work and outside her home.

Following their meeting, Mrs Mitchell had her car tyres let down, was bombarded with messages on Facebook and found her pet cat dead. She said police officers told her they had insufficient evidence to do anything about it.

But ten years on, after getting local MP Amber Rudd involved, Salih was arrested and jailed for four years.

Mrs Mitchell said: "He still didn’t think he’d done anything wrong and thought I should be flattered by the attention, and was smiling and laughing in court."

"I’m relieved... but I felt he should have had ten years because he took that much of my life."

Recalling the first moment they crossed paths, Mrs Mitchell said Salih – who was ‘a bit weird looking’ – approached her with a rose and asked her out.

She added: "He kept going on even though I said I wasn’t interested, and then he said “please, please give me a chance, I know everything about you”. I had three children at home and alarm bells were really ringing. I needed to know what he knew for the safety of me and the kids.

"I was terrified – my heart was beating really fast – but he said he knew where I lived and told me my address, which is when I thought, 'bloody hell, this is really bad'." Mrs Mitchell was further perturbed to learn that her children had noticed Salih hanging around the family’s semi-detached £175 000 (about R3.2 million) house in St Leonards-on-Sea.

Following their first meeting, more unnerving incidents soon followed.

Mrs Mitchell said her car tyres were let down, and her cat was found dead. After it was buried, it was dug up twice. After signing up for Facebook in 2009, she said Salih persistently tried to contact her on the site – even managing to find her after she changed her name.

Mrs Mitchell said: "There was a tirade of horrendous things after that – he was stopping me outside of work, forcing flowers on me, and I’d tell him to go away, but there was nothing anyone could do."

"For the next six weeks, my car tyres kept being let down, and at one point my car got moved into the middle of the road while I was working, but the police thought I’d left the handbrake off."

Matters came to a head in July this year when Salih began driving dangerously alongside her down the seafront, she said. She went to the police station – but again he drove past her.

She said: "I screamed at two officers to stop him and I totally broke down, but they told me the station was closed and I had to go home and call 101. The police acknowledged that he was a dodgy, suspicious character, so they put out a warrant for his arrest, but when they eventually found and questioned him, he was released. I told them they were mad for releasing him and that I was terrified for my life but they said they didn’t have enough evidence to charge him."

Mrs Mitchell wrote to Mrs Rudd, now Home Secretary, begging for help. Another warrant was issued and two weeks later, Salih was arrested and charged after admitting stalking. He was jailed for four years at Hove Crown Court and will be handed a protection order on his release.