Same-sex couple ‘feared for their safety’ after nightmare neighbour threatened to ‘expose’ them

A neighbour from hell targeted a same-sex couple with a series of anonymous hand-scrawled letters threatening to “expose” them unless they paid up.

Appearing in Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court, Karen Marshall, 55, admitted charges of blackmail and harassment against the two women who lived next door to her.

Marshall began sending the threatening notes shortly after the couple moved to Stoke-on-Trent last year, using phrases such as “I don’t like gays” and “you better move”.

The threats escalated between 7 and 19 May, with a final letter demanding: “I want money off you. Further orders will follow so be ready. If you don’t pay us, we will expose you to all.”

The women were “very offended and concerned” by the letters, becoming increasingly paranoid as they continued as they had no way of knowing who sent them. One of the victims was left in such fear that she couldn’t bring herself to leave the house.

“I really did fear for my and my partner’s safety. We began to change our routines so whoever was writing to us didn’t know our pattern,” she said in a victim personal statement, heard by Stoke-on-Trent Live.

Matters came to a head after they installed CCTV around their house. Although the cameras didn’t see who delivered the final note, another neighbour caught Marshall’s actions on their own security camera.

Judge Sally Hancox said: “You were shown wandering, raising your hand and letting the letter flutter from your grasp down to the floor of your neighbours’ home.

“This was highly concerning for all to see. You were immediately recognised as a close neighbour. You were formally identified by police and arrested.”

Prosecutor Richard McConaghy noted “worrying similarities” with a previous blackmail offence Marshall was jailed for in 2017. “It involved her sending notes to various neighbours, threatening to kill members of their families or damaging property if they didn’t pay,” he recalled.

Days before she was due to complete her sentence she sent more letters to the family threatening to take revenge, which saw her jailed for a further 15 months.

Paul Cliff, mitigating, said Marshall had been struggling with her mental health since she lost her mother several years ago. “She’s a woman described as suffering from a dramatic, erratic, emotional personality disorder,” he explained.

“When she is lucid and rational, she is able to recognise the views expressed in that document belong to another century,” he said, adding that she has a close relative who is gay and with whom she gets on well.

The judge said she was a “nuisance” to her local area and the “simplest option” would be another term behind bars, but a community order would ensure she got help for her problems.

Marshall must also pay a £50 financial penalty for breaching a previous suspended sentence. She will be subject to a restraining order for an indefinite period, banning her from having any contact with her former next door neighbours.