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OAP in fear while rapist is secure

PUBLISHED: 17:49 26 February 2002 | UPDATED: 11:26 03 March 2010

UNDER constant supervision and secured for sleep at night, convicted rapist Stephen Beech is being granted the very protection which our country's crime victims would surely beg for.

UNDER constant supervision and secured for sleep at night, convicted rapist Stephen Beech is being granted the very protection which our country's crime victims would surely beg for.

And yet – what of the men and women who still find themselves tormented through fright? What protection do they have from their understandable fears?

EVA Gilby lives her life in fear.

Every night, in her small Ipswich home, she routinely bolts the door against the threat of crime. She checks it once, checks it twice, and still, as she makes her way to bed behind that bolted door, her trepidation remains the same.

And then, by day, her fear is no less real.

In fact, such is the fear of this jovial great-grandmother, that she has not left her house alone for more than six long months.

And even when she does make those rare accompanied trips beyond her home, she watches all around her; cringes at the threatening faces; breathes fast and furious in her understandable terror.

The fright has never left her.

For Eva Gilby is a victim of crime.

Eva Gilby, who at 83-years-old is rightfully entitled to a life of peace and respect, was callously mugged by an opportune attacker last year.

It was back in August, as Mrs Gilby made her way to a local convenience store, that the softly-spoken widow was robbed of her bag and left lying in agony on the floor.

She was bruised, shaken and had suffered a broken arm – but above all, she had become an emotional victim of society's rising crime toll.

It is something that has never gone away.

"I can't ever get it completely out of my head," she confessed. "I wonder if it will actually ever leave me at all."

Eva, who was already partially blind at the time of the attack, suffered a huge confidence knock after her ordeal, and physically, her body refused to keep going as it had previously and capably done.

"My body seemed to go into shock after it happened, and generally my health went downhill very fast," she said.

"Eventually I had to succumb to a wheelchair, and now my quality of life is nothing like what it used to be.

"Physically it is hard for me to go out now anyway, but mostly, I am just scared to be away from my four walls."

And, even inside those four walls, life is still painfully tough.

"I find myself locking the door several times over when I am in here on my own, and when I go to bed, I can't seem to get the noises out of my head.

"I hear footsteps from above my flat and they scare me. I hear the wind at the door or voices beyond the walls.

"I'm constantly frightened – and I never used to be this way."

Through teary eyes and a struggled smile, she added: "I get frustrated by how much it still haunts me.

"I'd like to feel the way that I did before it happened – but I know I never will.

"Sometimes I really sink into the depths and it's ever so hard to pull myself up again. Everything in my life has been changed by this."

Eva Gilby is a woman who, in anyone's eyes, deserved better.

She needed protection that wasn't there.

And even now, she is a woman – of great spirit and strength – whose mind would be better calmed with the knowledge that such protection was with her all the time.

Yet, instead, while Eva Gilby places herself to bed on her own each night; while she fears all who pass her and wishes for greater security – a convicted rapist is himself being granted exactly that care.

Stephen Beech is arguably sleeping in the safest bed in Ipswich.

When he wishes to go out, he is flanked by security. When he returns to bed, his is secure from all threats.

He is rewarded with exactly the security that Mrs Eva Gilby must surely crave for – and yet, labelled a 'notorious sex offender', he carries a record of some 115 offences.

So is this the disturbing reality behind our social existence today?

Is this the unbelievable contrast between Britain's 21st century criminal – and their ever-fearful victim?

Beech, 38, has a truly terrifying personal record, and yet, essentially, he is free to come and go as he chooses from his 'bed and breakfast' arrangement at Ipswich Police Station.

His presence in the town, and under the constraints of this curious set-up, cannot help but highlight a huge dilemma that faces the authorities.

What should they do with a man such as Beech?

Where should they place a man who has been released into a community like ours – bringing such an appalling history with him?

Who must hold the extensive burden of responsibility for someone of such proven and dangerous form?

The answers are surely less forthcoming than the dozens of questions that this case must duly raise around Suffolk today.

After all, it isn't so long ago that Ipswich saw the arrival of another convicted rapist on recent release.

Back in September 1999, Kevin Chambers arrived here in Ipswich, without all knowledge of the authorities.

He had been released from prison having served three years and three months of a six year rape sentence – and with hours he had committed the same horrendous act in an Ipswich subway.

Clearly, that terrible crime – which sparked huge controversy about the failure of authorities to disclose Chambers' whereabouts – must surely have prayed on the minds of our authorities last week, as Beech's arrival then became imminent.

But, even in the intention of preventing another Chambers-style crime, was his boarding arrangement really an appropriate one?

Is it fair that he should single-handedly take crucial police manpower from off of our streets – while Eva Gilby still fears so desperately for her life?

"I grew up in an age where these dangers weren't so apparent," Eva said. "We didn't think so much about our security – because we just didn't think we had to.

"But now look at me. I'm nervous all the time. I hear noises and think people are trying to get into my house. I bolt the door over and over again – it's a terrible feeling of fear."

She said: "You used to go out on the streets and see police all the time. They were people you respected, and I suppose they did give you a greater sense that you were being kept secure.

"Now you never seem to see them on the streets. I'm not sure exactly why it is, and what they're doing instead, but you get the feeling that their presence has really changed.

"It makes us all feel much more vulnerable."

Admittedly, the police, and all the connected authorities who are now working in partnership over the case of Stephen Beech, have a tough and very public challenge to tackle.

It's a dilemma that no person could want to hold the burden for…..and yet somebody surely has to.

Beech has, in his very presence, etched a threatening and seemingly unjust picture of today's Britain.

He has done so right here on the streets of Ipswich, and it's a chapter which will surely not be closed easily – nor quietly.

What are your views? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30,Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk. IP4 1AN. Fax 01473 225296 or email EveningStarLetters@ecng.co.uk

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