Under different circumstances, it might have been a kind, welcoming gesture — the man next door popping round to ask if his new neighbour, hard at work on renovations, would like a sandwich.
‘He was just suddenly there,’ she says. ‘I was in the living room. I was working away on the floor, listening to a podcast, so I had earphones in. I nearly jumped out of my skin. He’d come through the conservatory, which meant he must have leapt over the fence at the back.
‘He said, ‘You haven’t eaten, have you? You eat salmon, don’t you? I’ll make you a sandwich.’ ‘
Former ITV and Channel 5 newsreader Isla Traquair, 42, felt trapped in her Cotswolds cottage
Jenny’s neighbour pictured in his own garden but the wall and fence are hers and being on the wall was a breach of the bail conditions – ‘He was just suddenly there,’ she said
Isla declined, saying she had food in the fridge, but he insisted, returning later with a sandwich ‘which he watched me eat’.
Little wonder she was disturbed.
‘The only way he could know I hadn’t eaten would be if he’d been watching me. It was weird, creepy.’
Why had he offered salmon?
‘We’d had a conversation previously when he’d recommended a butcher. I’d told him I didn’t eat red meat. He’d obviously clocked that, stored it away.’
She shudders at the memory, because it brings back the fear but also because admitting being terrified by a salmon sandwich sounds a little… silly.
‘This is the problem,’ she says. ‘Taken out of context, all the incidents seem quite trivial. You start to think you are going mad.
‘When you are installing security cameras, putting film on the windows to stop him being able to see in, going round checking all your windows, having panic attacks, because you know that these cases can end up with murder, you think, ‘Is it me?’ ‘ It was not her. At last we can call her sandwich-offering neighbour what he is — a dangerous stalker.
Last week, Jonathan Barrett, 53, was found guilty of stalking Isla and subjecting her to a ordeal lasting nearly a year during which he spied on her relentlessly to the point that she fled her home, a quaint cottage on the edge of the Cotswolds.
At Salisbury Magistrates Court, magistrate Mina Seales told gardener Barrett that he ‘pursued a course of conduct that caused alarm and distress’ and that the evidence heard over a three-day trial demonstrated ‘an obsession and infatuation’ with Isla. The ordeal has been devastating.
‘It broke me,’ she says. ‘I was in fear for my safety for most of a year, and I even moved to America because I had to get far away.
‘I was a shell of myself. I lost weight. My hair started to fall out. This man’s behaviour affected every single aspect of my life.
‘I’m still having panic attacks. I have no home. A relationship has since broken down. It’s upset my parents, affected my finances, my ability to work. It has broken me in ways I didn’t even know I could be broken.
‘The irony is that in my job I have lived in some of the most dangerous places in the world. I have confronted murderers. Yet I’ve never been as terrified as I was in a cottage in rural Wiltshire.’
This is the first time Isla has talked at length about her ordeal and it quickly becomes clear she has been affected not just by the stalking, but by the traumatic process of getting her stalker prosecuted — and have the police take her seriously.
‘While certain individual officers, female ones, were helpful, some didn’t want to know,’ she claims.
‘I’d go as far as to say the actions of one officer actually emboldened my stalker.’
Does her court victory at least mean she can sleep easy in her bed at night? After all, she’s one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Fewer than 1 per cent of stalking cases result in convictions.
Hardly. She tells me that while Barrett is still living in his house (he is yet to be sentenced, but a custodial sentence carries a maximum six months term), she’s still too frightened to return home. Worse, she cannot sell the place, ‘because the law means I would have to disclose any issues with neighbours’.
Isla’s reporting career began in her native Aberdeen, but she became a regular face on TV, first in Scotland then nationally, working for ITV. In 2008, she covered for Natasha Kaplinsky when she went on maternity leave at Channel 5.
Married and divorced by then, her career moved to America. She worked for the Oprah Winfrey Network, interviewing celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. But a more recent job hosting a crime podcast gave her the flexibility to live anywhere.
So when her mother suffered two serious strokes, Isla moved back to the UK just before the pandemic hit. She fell in love with the sleepy town of Corsham when she visited friends, and by October 2020 had had an offer accepted on a light-filled, 18th-century cottage.
She took her mother on a tour, thrilled that the property had a granny flat, ‘which meant Mum could come and stay for extended periods’.
It was here she met Barrett, who lived with his partner Sonja.
‘He blocked my car in and was quite agitated, accusing me of having been in his garden, trampling his bushes and letting my dog foul in there, which was rubbish.’
Rattled, she went back a few weeks later to make peace. ‘He told me, ‘I’ve never done anything aggressive.’ I know now that this is not true, because he has a previous conviction for assault.’
Completing on her house in January 2021, Isla didn’t move in immediately, but was there daily, renovating. At first she assumed Barrett’s regular presence was a coincidence.
‘My garden kind of wraps around his and drops down the hillside. I was also in and out the front, carrying building waste or materials up the steps. It felt like almost every time I went out, front or back, he was there, trying to engage me in conversation.’
The sandwich incident unnerved her, and she was startled when he started making personal comments. ‘He talked about my hair being different, then said something about me being vain. I was dressed in animal onesies most of the time, covered in dirt and wearing a hat.’
It would emerge in court that Barrett knew all about Isla.
‘He told police incorrect information about my ex-husband, which he could only have learned on the internet,’ she says.
The day Isla was due to move in there was an altercation over minor roof repairs — ones he had pointed out she needed. She asked someone else to do them, and had texted Barrett to say they needed to put the ladder in his garden.
Isla Traquair outside court after a professional gardener was convicted of stalking her
‘He came charging out of the house, swearing and shouting, saying, ‘I said I’d f***ing help. You think you f***ing own this place.’ ‘
Isla was so upset she slept on a friend’s sofa.
The next day she sent him an ‘olive branch text’. Later that day, Barrett gave her a mango — presumably a peace offering, if an odd one.
At what point does an odd neighbour become a menace, though?
‘I liken it to a frog being put in a pan of water which is gently brought to the boil,’ says Isla. ‘It built up gradually.
‘The first night I stayed at the house I came downstairs to the kitchen the next morning. I had no working bathroom upstairs so I’d been washing in the sink.
‘I was about to get undressed when I saw him in his garden, but able to look straight through my conservatory into the kitchen.
It was 7am, in March. I was so shocked I ducked down.’
The solution was to keep the blinds shut. ‘That was when I bought mirror film to put on all the windows, so that he couldn’t see in.’
It wasn’t a deterrent. He’d appear when she was parking her car.
‘He’d be out very early, wearing a dressing gown, barely tied. He’d water one or two plants, then race round to a spot under a tree and stand there staring towards my bedroom windows.
‘My neighbours said he hadn’t done it before I arrived.’
Isla was becoming stressed by now, unable to sleep. Night-time noises unnerved her.
‘My dog would growl and I would check and he would be outside.’
She learned Barrett had been paid by the house’s previous owners to look after their garden: there was a suggestion he might have a key. She changed the locks. ‘Later that day I got an odd phone call from him asking where I was and how long would I be away?’
Friends came to stay. One guest was a platonic male friend, ‘and Jon’s spying seemed to increase. We’d have our meals in the conservatory and Jon would be on the other side of the glass’.
Still in his garden? ‘Yes, but just standing there, staring.’
Her friend helped her install bamboo screening and ‘out of courtesy, I texted Sonja to let her know’. Sonja asked her to tell Barrett directly.
‘We passed him driving home, after I’d texted him, his face a fury. When we got back home, a hedge that runs the width of my garden had been butchered. It wasn’t a neighbourly act. It looked as if it had been done in anger.’
Then Isla had another conversation with Sonja, now overtly saying Barrett was spying on her ‘and scaring me’. ‘She said he liked to stare, but it was ‘not what you think’. I said I wasn’t suggesting a motivation, sexual or otherwise.
‘She said he was angry because I wasn’t ‘including him’.
Ms Traquair, said: We’d have our meals in the conservatory and Jon would be on the other side of the glass’. Pictured: Jonathan Barrett at court
‘The next day he jumped up on the dividing wall and ‘barked at me’. My friend was present. He urged me to call the police.’
Isla was told an officer would contact her. A few days later she felt Barrett was following her in his car, and she called the police again.
On June 10, two female officers visited. ‘They were helpful, telling me to photograph or video what I could.’ They recommended continuing with a stalking diary Isla had already started and said two Taser-trained officers would talk to Barrett, warning him he risked arrest, and to inform him a fence and cameras were being installed.
What happened next was unacceptable, she says.
She had gone to stay with a friend on the day Barrett was supposed to have his visit from the police, and when she queried if it had happened, a male officer emailed, saying: ‘Sorry Isla. I am not a go-between.’
‘I couldn’t believe it. He wanted me to tell Jon about the fence myself. After I’d been told to steer clear.’ She says she later received an apology from a senior officer, but it wasn’t the only issue with the police. She also queried their compiling of her statement, pointing out that it contained errors.
‘They said ‘it doesn’t matter’. It did matter. When this all came to court, the prosecuting barrister was unhappy with what she’d been handed.’
By now, Isla was staying regularly with friends.
‘But every time I returned, things escalated. I heard what sounded like stones being thrown at my bedroom more than once. I recorded it. There was a strong smell of urine at my front door, but how do you record that, and what does it prove anyway?’
From June onwards, Isla documented dozens more incidents, including a video of Barrett triggering motion sensors by putting a collapsed clothes horse against her fence — while naked.
‘I happened to be on the phone to a police sergeant at the time,’ she recalls. ‘At first I thought it was a ladder.’
Ms Traquair reported him, and other incidents, but no action was taken so had no choice but to flee to the USA
This prompted police to arrest him on July 16. Bail conditions included not approaching her, or crossing onto her property.
Three days later, he was caught on camera outside Isla’s bedroom window, behind a bush in her garden, then crossing back towards his house while taking photos.
She reported this, and other incidents, but no action was taken.
Eventually she’d had enough. ‘I thought there was no point phoning the police again so I called friends and cried myself to sleep on their sofa. I’ve not lived there since.’
In October, Barrett was charged with stalking. ‘I went to stay with my brother in the U.S. I just wanted to get far away.’
She was horrified, though, to learn that because she was no longer in the country, the CPS wanted to drop the case.
‘I had to write to the Chief Constable over that. I was outraged. As if me being out of the way fixed the problem. I was out of the country because I was too afraid to be in my house!
‘In court, the defence even tried to claim I was the one harassing him. I was challenged about whether I should have been recording him. But if I hadn’t, we would not be in court.’
Although the law was changed in 2020 to give stalking victims more protection, she argues that a loophole is being exploited.
‘At one point the police lawyer applied for a Stalking Protection Order but I was warned if I gave evidence in court to get it, it would be used by the defence to deliberately scupper the criminal case. That is astonishing.’
It’s easy to forget Isla has ‘won’ here. Barrett will be sentenced later this month but was handed an immediate restraining order, banning him from contacting Isla or looking into her property for one year. She was horrified, though, to find someone bearing his name had liked one of her comments on Instagram, after the verdict.
A spokesman for Wiltshire Police said they are investigating an alleged breach of the restraining order, so could not comment further.
‘However, we want the public to be reassured that we take all reports of stalking and harassment incredibly seriously and we would always encourage victims to come forward,’ he added.
Isla wasn’t in court to see a guilty verdict returned — and was not even aware the verdict was imminent.
‘I found out on WhatsApp. I was on a train. I burst into tears. Two lovely women, complete strangers, comforted me.’
It’s a trivial thing, but it speaks volumes that she wasn’t even informed, she says.
‘It shows how far down the pecking order the victim is.’