Alice’s family and friends will always remember her for her happy and outgoing personality. She had the ability to cheer anyone up when they were down; she was incredibly quick-witted, a brilliant listener, and genuinely empathetic. She quickly made friends wherever she went.
Alice was the third of the four Ruggles children, and grew up with her sister and brothers in the quiet Leicestershire village of Tur Langton. The family was a close-knit one and Alice always managed to make her presence known, whether by her jokes, her mischievous pranks, or later by the endless banter on the family WhatsApp group. She was a natural entertainer, who could be found not only singing in school concerts but also leading the karaoke at friends’ parties when she was as young as nine.
For her senior years at school Alice chose to attend Leicester High School for Girls where her mother Sue worked. Making friends was second nature to her and she was popular and successful there, playing a lead role in the school pantomime, performing comic pieces in house events, singing in the chamber choir, and narrowly missing becoming the victrix ludorum on sports day when she fell flat on her face at the start of her final race (something she thought was hilarious). She also helped younger pupils with their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, helped to organise the school ball … the list is endless.
The Ruggles family Christmas was a three-day affair: no-one ever missed one, even after the children had moved away from home and everyone was scattered around the country. At Alice's insistence, the serious eating would always kick off with an enormous Chinese meal on her birthday, Christmas Eve.
Having discovered fencing at a PGL camp at age eleven, the sport soon became an important part of Alice’s life. Her chosen weapon was the epee, and she represented her home county of Leicestershire and the East-Midlands region on many occasions; she also enjoyed success on the national fencing circuit. By the time she was eighteen, Alice was selecting potential universities based on the strengths of their fencing clubs, and she duly chose Northumbria, where she became club captain. The proudest of her achievements was winning the Women’s Epee at the Leeds Open in 2012.
Alice stayed in Newcastle after graduation, having come to love the city. After a while she secured a job at media giant Sky’s Newcastle hub, where she was quickly promoted to become site coordinator and PA to the head of sales. One of her colleagues wrote of her: “You know I’m not a man of many words, unless it was badgering you to get my laptop ordered, so I just wanted to list my best memories of you. Genuinely, the most horrific Manchunian accent I have ever heard. EVER. Absolutely awful. And hilarious in equal measure. You taught me the difference between foil, epee and sabre. I still won’t watch it at the Olympics. You are more sarcastic than me. Your sense of humour was second to none. So witty and sharp as a tack. Last, but definitely not least, you had the most infectious personality and brightened the office on a daily basis. I can genuinely say any day I spoke to you was a happier one for it. You never failed to make me laugh, and I’m a miserable sod. You could even do it via an e-mail...” and the e-mail attached reads “Laptop wait time is directly proportional to how nice you are to me. Therefore yours is due for delivery in 2074. Thanks, Alice”.
Early in 2016 Alice began a brief relationship with Trimaan Dhillon. He initially charmed her with his attentive and caring behaviour, but this soon changed. After a few months Alice became suspicious when she was contacted by a woman who revealed that Dhillon had wanted to start a relationship with her. At this, Alice finished with him.
Trimaan Dhillon was a soldier serving with 2 Scots based at Penicuik, south of Edinburgh. Alice had been introduced to him on-line by a mutual friend while he was serving in a non-combat role in Afghanistan, and they met in January 2016, spending a happy week together in Newcastle and another in Edinburgh before he returned to Afghanistan for his final two-month tour of duty. After he came back to the UK in April, her friends and colleagues noticed that she was becoming withdrawn and distracted, and was losing weight. She had also stopped socialising. She fell out with her housemates and moved to a new ground-floor flat in Gateshead, shared with her work colleague Maxine.
During this time Dhillon had started being critical of her appearance and of the way she lived life, and of her friends and of family members, so that she steadily became more isolated. He had also taken control of her Facebook account by changing the password (she later shut this down and started a new one).
The cumulative effect of Dhillon’s behaviour on Alice was very marked indeed. In a few months, from the happy, outgoing, vibrant person she had been, she had become miserable and lonely. Her work was adversely affected. Her family noticed how withdrawn and unhappy Alice was during a family holiday to a cottage in Cornwall in July, although Dhillon would later describe it as “perfect”.
Around this time, Alice was contacted by another woman whom Dhillon had befriended on a dating website. At this, Alice ended the relationship, no longer being able to trust him. In fact, all the while Dhillon had been demanding her total loyalty to him, he had been cheating on her, contacting other women and engaging in casual sex with them.
Dhillon was not prepared to accept no for an answer. In the ensuing weeks he bombarded Alice with phone calls, voice messages, texts and emails. Some were pleading; others were aggressive and threatening. He also contacted her family and friends. In one message he stated he was not used to being denied what belonged to him.
During August and September, Alice received a torrent of messages from Dhillon — texts, emails, and voicemails from several different phones. In some he professed his undying love; in others he used emotional blackmail, crying down the phone or threatening to kill himself. In yet others he was more menacing, using veiled threats to release compromising photographs that he had secretly taken of her.
Dhillon had become obsessed with Alice. At first she tried her best to be pleasant to him, as it was not in her nature to be horrid, but he simply abused that in his attempts to get her back. When she began to ignore his messages, he contacted some of her family members and friends, trying to get them to influence her. He had also hacked into her social media, and it became clear that he was reading all her messages so that he knew who she was speaking to and where she was. At the beginning of September he found out that Alice had begun a new relationship with Mike, an Army Officer, and set out to destroy it by contacting Mike directly, painting a false picture of her, and trying to deceive him into thinking that Alice was two-timing him.
On 30 September, Dhillon repeatedly rang Alice’s doorbell and then hid when she looked through the spyhole to see who was there. She was concerned that it was him and did not answer the door, Some hours later he climbed the fence into the back garden and knocked on Alice’s ground-floor window as she lay in bed. When she opened the curtains she saw flowers and chocolates on the windowsill and Dhillon backing off. As he drove back to Edinburgh he left a chilling phone message, where he kept repeating that he didn’t want to kill her and wouldn’t kill her. Alice at last contacted the police, who were initially very sympathetic and reassured her that he could be stopped. They crimed the incident as harassment and issued a Police Information Notice (PIN). Seven days later, Alice contacted the police again to report that he was still contacting her, but the response was less sympathetic and no action was taken. Alice was distraught as she now believed that nothing could or would be done to stop this stalking. A further five days after this, Dhillon broke into her flat and brutally murdered her.
The judge’s sentencing remarks, addressed to Trimaan Dhillon at the end of his trial, provide a gruelling description of what happened on the night of 30 September. “You went to her flat. She was alone that night and what you did will have terrified her. You knocked on the door on three separate occasions, each time slipping away—and then you climbed over the wall into the rear yard and knocked on a bedroom window as Miss Ruggles lay in her bed. She looked out of the window to see you backing off having left flowers and chocolates. As might be expected, she was shaken and scared by that incident. You then left a voicemail message telling her repeatedly that you did not intend to kill her. You were harassing her. You were stalking her. You were destroying her.”
That night Alice called 101. As is evident from the recording of the phone call, which is in the public domain, she was calm and polite, almost apologetic. The officer explained that she could go to a solicitor and take out an injunction, or that the police could issue a Police Information Notice (PIN) “which means if he ever comes near you again or contacts you again, he’ll be arrested. So which would you prefer?" to which Alice can be heard replying “Can I try that option please?"
Alice believed herself to be protected and had regained her old self-confidence. Actually, a PIN notice carries no legal weight.
Meanwhile, the police warning was communicated to Dhillon in his barracks, by his army superiors, on 3 October. Colleagues, friends, and even a general practitioner had also told him not to contact Alice. Despite all this, he immediately sent her a parcel containing a letter and some other items. The letter complained that she had “called the police on him” and that he was now facing the repercussions, including that they had taken away his laptop, iPad and phone (which was a lie). He went on: “I’m in a lot of shit now but hope you feel happy now … I’m sending you everything I have that reminds me of you as you belong to another man. Wishing you two a happy life. I will never come in your life again.”
On 7 October Alice received the parcel and rang the police again to report it. But this time she was made to feel that arresting Dhillon was not a possible option and that she was wasting police time. There is no recording of this phone call.
All of a sudden, Alice realised that she was not being protected at all. She tried to make sure she was driven home to the front door each day by a colleague and immediately double-locked it. On 10 October, unbeknown to Alice, Dhillon drove down to her house after dark, climbed into the back garden and photographed the rear window.
On 12 October, Dhillon drove down again from Edinburgh and parked near to Alice’s flat, waiting for her to return home. While waiting he was messaging another woman, trying to arrange a meeting later that evening back up in Scotland. Around 6pm, Dhillon climbed in again over the back wall and this time forced his way in through a window. He picked up a sharp kitchen knife and cornered Alice in the bathroom. Twenty minutes later she was lying dead there. Her flatmate Maxine returned shortly afterwards and found her.
Thanks to Maxine's information and swift action by Northumbria police, Dhillon was arrested back at his barracks just a few hours later, as he was attempting to climb out over the wall. He initially denied all knowledge of Alice’s death but overwhelming evidence quickly placed him at the scene. In court Dhillon was not only unemotional, but also exhibited breathtaking arrogance. He denied murder and tried to argue that Alice had attacked him, but the jury rejected this and he was sentenced to life imprisonment for Alice’s murder, with a minimum tariff of 22 years.
Alice did not realise the very real danger that she was in. Nor was this fully recognised by her family, her friends or the police.
Sadly, Alice’s story is not a one-off. It is a typical story illustrating the link between coercive behaviour and stalking. During their brief relationship, Alice had always thought that Dhillon had looked out for her, but the reality was that he had always been trying to manipulate her as well as her friends and family. He made negative comments about her personal appearance to undermine her confidence. He stoked up minor disagreements between her friends and persuaded her that she was better without them. He sent messages to her mother telling her what a horrible person her daughter was. All the time he emphasised to Alice herself how much he cared about her and would look after her. In a few short months, Alice had lost all her self-confidence and felt she had no friends left. Once she split from him and started to take control again she began to return to her old self. This was the point where Trimaan Dhillon’s coercive control turned to stalking.
Many ex-partners will exhibit stalking-type behaviour to try and win their partners back and not all of them will become obsessive. When warned by the police, around 50% of stalkers will immediately stop the behaviour, but the ones that do not, like Dhillon, can be extremely dangerous. Stalking, in these cases, is murder in slow motion.
For Alice’s family, the key question is this: if another Alice presented herself to the police today, would the outcome be any different? Encouragingly, lessons have been learned as a result of Alice's case. Many police forces have been working hard to implement procedural change and update training for front-line officers. In 2018, the CPS and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) introduced a new protocol on the appropriate handling of stalking or harassment offences, aiming to ensure that the criminal justice system identifies patterns of behaviour that amount to stalking or harassment for what they are, rather than looking at incidents in isolation. One result of this is that PINs are no longer used in stalking cases.
But there is plenty of work still to be done. Alice’s Domestic Homicide Review, published in 2019, made 20 recommendations aimed at national, regional and local bodies, including the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence.
The 2019 Stalking Protection Act brought in Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), intended as a simple and effective tool to help the police manage the risk from the moment a victim presents themselves. Emerging evidence suggests that the effectiveness and application of Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) is being hampered by multiple complicating and competing factors, leaving victims at risk of serious harm or death. We are now campaigning for an urgent and comprehensive independent review of SPOs.
We also continue to campaign for a statutory framework to deal with serial stalkers. In Alice’s case the court also heard how a restraining order had been taken out against Dhillon by an ex-girlfriend in Kent three years earlier. This was because after she had split up with him he had tracked her down and spat in her face in the street. At the time of Alice’s phone calls, the Northumbria police had no knowledge about the earlier restraining order: if they had had this, they might have acted differently.
Since its inception, our Trust has been doing all it can to raise public awareness of the dangers of stalking, particularly among young people. We need stalking victims to seek help much sooner, and we need a criminal justice system and support services that react in the right way when they do.
Alice Ruggles 1991–2016