Published: 06:00, 25 February 2021
| Updated: 20:17, 25 February 2021
The familiar ping indicating a text message sent cold shivers through Alina De Guiseppe.
For 18 months, the 24-year-old from Maidstone had been perplexed then paralysed by fear as a series of texts from foes she never knew she had turned more and more sinister.
The latest threatened to throw acid in her face. It left her too afraid to go outside.
Her partner sat alongside her, vowing to find those responsible for the unrelenting abuse from phone calls, chilling texts and fake social media accounts.
But last week Anthony Clarke, 36, was exposed as the person behind the orchestrated ‘gaslighting’ campaign to torment his partner of five years.
Clarke, from Maidstone Road, Chatham, was given a suspended sentence of 20 months at Maidstone Crown Court after admitting charges of harassment.
Speaking after the hearing to KentOnline, Miss De Guiseppe, who lives in central Maidstone, said: “We planned to settle down and have a family. We did everything together.
“It was hard to realise someone you believed loved you and cared about you would do this.”
Miss De Guiseppe met Clarke when she was 18-years-old and working at the M2 service station’s M&S while he worked at the garage.
She said: “He was very charming, very confident and would flirt not just with me but other people. I was quite young, 18 at the time, and I liked the attention, I thought it was great.”
They got together when Miss De Guiseppe was about 19, but their relationship was on and off.
She said: “We broke up a few times. If I would get attention from other people he would be suspicious. If I was going out somewhere he would want to know where I was going and who with.
“At the beginning I didn’t think too much of it, I just thought he was being caring.”
Even when she was texting her mum, he would want to see her phone and, towards the end of the relationship, to see screenshots of conversations on social media to keep tabs on who she was talking to, she added.
“I felt I couldn’t go out with my friends without him having a say in it,” she added.
The pair had good times together as well and Clarke could make her feel special and loved. They would go on holidays and days out. She wanted to start a family with him one day.
In 2019, she started receiving messages from an unknown number. The messages claimed to be from a girl who said Miss De Guiseppe had wronged her, and she would expose Alina to her family.
“In the beginning I tried to figure out what they wanted and who they were,” she said.
The texts continued and she blocked the number, but was then bombarded with calls from withheld numbers, even at work.
Whenever she picked up, the line was cut off.
She would be insulted over text and if she blocked the number, a new number would spring up. One message said: “I promise that if you keep ignoring me, you will regret it, it’s up to you.”
Separate texts threatened to throw acid in her face and break her nose.
She said one message listed the names of her relatives and their addresses, while others made her think she was being watched.
“I was physically scared to leave the flat,” she said. “It struck fear into my day to-day life. I would stare out of the window sometimes looking for anyone suspicious or a car hanging around.
“Even now if I feel like someone’s walking behind me I will get paranoid I am being followed.
“He saw it was affecting me and I would get upset and he would say ‘I will try to figure out who it is, I will get it to stop’.”
Gradually, Miss De Guiseppe began to suspect Clarke and even confronted him, but every time he would deny it, she said.
“The last time he got quite upset, he made me doubt why I asked him. He would do everything to throw me off the scent.”
Miss De Guiseppe suffers from panic attacks which became more frequent during Clark’s harassment, she said.
He told her going to the police would only make her mental health worse, she said.
“He knew how fragile and vulnerable I was and he took advantage of that completely.”
The web of lies came to an end in the summer of 2020, when police traced the phone numbers to Clarke.
“Even now if I feel like someone’s walking behind me I will get paranoid I am being followed..."
Miss De Guiseppe blocked his number and hasn’t spoken to him since.
Now she’s not sure when she’ll be able to trust someone again.
She said: “I haven’t moved on in the sense I feel I could be with someone, just being able to trust someone again, I don’t know if I can do it. ”
During the sentencing hearing, Emin Kandola, defending, said Clarke, who sobbed continuously in the dock, “now understands that this incident would have been horrible for the complainant.
“Nothing warrants his behaviour and he struggles to explain why he did it.”
The judge, Recorder Ed Burge QC told him: “The mental anguish that you needlessly inflicted on her can only be guessed at. You have escaped going straight to prison by the skin of your teeth.”
He told him it was an unusual harassment case, which normally involves ex-partners unable to deal with a break up.
“But you were in a relationship with the defendant and you were gaslighting her by sending vile and abusive text and Facebook messages, threatening violence.”
Over the next two years he will have to undergo mental health treatment and attend rehabilitation sessions. He also cannot contact his ex-partner indirectly or directly.
Additional reporting by Paul Hooper.