WHEN Hayley Smith matched with Ben Gould on the dating site Plenty of Fish, she thought she’d met her perfect man.
A dad and fellow dog lover, the mum-of-three, 37, quickly fell for Gould – eight years her junior – and they became an item.
But when she found out he’d been living with another woman at the time they met, heartbroken Hayley broke it off.
Little did she realise the months of torment that would follow, as obsessive Gould bombarded her with texts and calls, waited outside her home and even hid inside her caravan.
When police couldn’t locate Gould, they issued a warrant for his arrest, and he was eventually discovered hiding in Hayley’s loft – where he’d been lurking for 10 DAYS.
In January 2020, Gould, 29, pleaded guilty to stalking and was handed a 20-week suspended sentence.
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Now Hayley, from Cornwall, is speaking out to raise awareness of stalking.
She tells The Sun: “Ben made my life hell. Knowing he was hiding in my house for days makes my skin crawl.
“I’m still scared of bumping into him. Stalking needs to be taken much more seriously.”
Hayley went on her first date with Gould to the pub in November 2018, having hit it off chatting online.
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She recalls: “Things moved quickly and soon after I introduced Ben to my children.
“He was great with them and they adored him.”
In June 2019 Gould, who was living with his mum at the time, moved in with Hayley while he looked for somewhere to live.
He was a doting stepdad to Hayley’s kids and for a while things were good.
But soon after, Gould’s ex messaged Hayley claiming he’d been living with her when they met.
Hayley says: “I was heartbroken. After I confronted him, he denied it but I didn’t believe him, so I ended things.”
Over the next week Gould bombarded Hayley with texts, begging for her forgiveness.
To take her mind off things, she spent time at friends’ houses.
The following month, while Hayley was watching TV in her living room, she spotted the creep outside her house.
She says: “He approached and then started throwing stones at the window.
“Terrified I loaded the kids into the car and drove to my mum’s house.”
When she arrived she received a text from Gould containing photographs of her friends’ homes.
It was then Hayley realised he’d been stalking her.
She says: “Ben then messaged asking where my dogs were.
“I raced home and my Rottweiler, Odin, was nowhere to be seen.
“Ben had taken him. I drove to his ex’s and confronted him. But he denied it.”
While they argued, Gould pulled his car behind Hayley’s, blocking her in.
He then started lobbing stones at her windscreen. Panicked, Hayley called the police.
She says: “When I arrived home, Ben called to say he’d found Odin in the road. I knew he was lying.
“Thankfully I picked him up and he was unharmed.”
Police officers attended but said they couldn’t charge Gould as they didn’t have enough evidence.
After that Hayley blocked him, but he continued to ring her from unknown numbers.
'Code word for danger'
Meanwhile, she became a recluse. In August 2019, worried for her and her children’s safety, she decided to pack a bag in case she needed to flee.
Hayley says: “One evening, I got some things together and went to put them in the caravan.
“But as I opened the door, I spotted Ben sat on the bunk bed.
“I screamed at him to get out, then grabbed the kids and bundled them into the car and drove away.”
Afterwards Hayley invented her own safety measures to feel more secure, and gave the children a code phrase in case they were ever in danger.
Knowing he’d been so close to me and my kids sent shivers down my spine
In December, Hayley received a call from her eldest daughter asking if the “dogs needed feeding” – and her blood ran cold.
“Instantly I knew something was wrong. So I sped home,” she says.
Hayley discovered Gould had been in the house and demanded to know where she was, leaving her daughter petrified.
The police were called but when they searched the house, Gould was nowhere to be found.
Minutes later, Hayley received a text from him.
She says: “Ben messaged telling me he was watching me.
“I was convinced he was in the house, but the police couldn’t find him.”
A warrant was issued for Gould’s arrest.
Chilling hiding place
For the next ten days he continued to message Hayley.
The police returned and searched her home again – this time finding him in her loft.
She says: “When they told me he’d been hiding in the loft, I couldn’t believe it.
“Knowing he’d been so close to me and my kids sent shivers down my spine. Thankfully he was arrested then and there.”
Two weeks later Hayley was granted a non-molestation order against Gould, banning him from contacting her for three years.
Psychologically I’ll never recover from the ordeal
But days later, while Hayley was parked up in her car, Gould jumped in the passenger seat.
She says: “He begged me to take him back. Terrified he was going to hurt me, I kept calm.
“For five hours, Ben tried to convince me to give him another chance. Eventually he gave up and went home.”
Hayley called the police and he was arrested.
In January 2020, Gould received a 20-week suspended sentence and was handed a three-year restraining order at Bodmin Magistrates’ Court.
Hayley says: “It wasn’t enough for what he’d put me and the kids through.
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“Psychologically I’ll never recover from the ordeal.
“Much more needs to be done to protect women from monsters like him.”
How you can get help
Women’s Aid has this advice for victims and their families:
- Always keep your phone nearby.
- Get in touch with charities for help, including the Women’s Aid live chat helpline and services such as SupportLine.
- If you are in danger, call 999.
- Familiarise yourself with the Silent Solution, reporting abuse without speaking down the phone, instead dialing “55”.
- Always keep some money on you, including change for a pay phone or bus fare.
- If you suspect your partner is about to attack you, try to go to a lower-risk area of the house – for example, where there is a way out and access to a telephone.
- Avoid the kitchen and garage, where there are likely to be knives or other weapons. Avoid rooms where you might become trapped, such as the bathroom, or where you might be shut into a cupboard or other small space.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, SupportLine is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 6pm to 8pm on 01708 765200. The charity’s email support service is open weekdays and weekends during the crisis – [email protected]
Women’s Aid provides a live chat service – available weekdays from 8am-6pm and weekends 10am-6pm.
You can also call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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