Class of 2019: Murdered by her stalker

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Alice Ruggles was killed by her ex-boyfriend, a soldier who broke into her house and cut her throat. In the latest of our Class of 2019 series, which highlights the finest feature writing by journalism graduates from De Montfort University, Annies Joy tells a harrowing story of obsession, coercion and stalking that ended with the brutal death of an innocent young woman.

It was 2am. The ring of the doorbell echoed throughout the dark quiet house, waking Sue Hills and her husband Clive from their sleep. Sue opened the door to find two policemen standing in front of her. The ultimate bearers of all bad news. In that moment Sue knew her daughter was dead.

Sue, 58, is a mother of four. Alice was her third child. At the age of 24 Alice Ruggles was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, turning the lives of her family upside down.

While trying to overcome the tragic loss of her daughter, Sue started a charity to raise awareness of stalking behaviour.

Before the tragic events that tore the family apart Sue used to work as a maths teacher at the same school daughter Alice attended.

“We used to spend a lot of time together, travelling together to and from school. We were really close,” says Sue. “Even though I didn’t teach her, I used to see her around a lot, so we shared a lot of things.”

Sue remembers her daughter Alice fondly. “Alice was very loving and hardworking.” says Sue. “She was always very happy, always singing and dancing.”

Alice Ruggles and Sue Hills

Alice, from the Leicestershire village of Tur Langton, was a keen fencer. She was county champion for seven years and was the East Midlands champion too. It was such a big part of Alice’s life that after her death her friends started an annual fencing competition in memory of Alice.

Her love of the sport took her to Northumbria University to study engineering, where they had an excellent fencing team.

Full of excitement and hope, Alice moved from Leicestershire to Newcastle to begin a new chapter of her life. “She loved Newcastle and fencing there,” says Sue.

After graduation, Alice decided to stay in Newcastle and started working for Sky, where she quickly got promoted from working at the call centre to PA and then to head of sales.

“Her life was going brilliantly,” says Sue. But her misfortune started after she went on holiday to Sri Lanka with a friend.

Her killer, Lance Corporal Trimaan Dhillon, saw pictures of Alice on her friend’s Facebook page, and messaged her. He was serving in the army, posted to Afghanistan in a non-combat role.

Their relationship escalated very quickly. This should have been the first warning sign.

“Apparently, it’s a very common thing from people who are going to be controlling,” says Sue. “But we didn’t know that at the time.” By Christmas Alice was already referring to him as her boyfriend.

In the following year, around the beginning of May, Sue met Dhillon in person for the first time. “He seemed nice enough,” says Sue. “He wasn’t someone you thought ‘Oh, he’s so lovely’ but he wasn’t someone who I thought ‘I didn’t like him’ either.”

However, Sue had an overwhelming feeling that she wasn’t getting to know him, rather he was presenting a version of him that he thought you wanted to hear.

It’s a common belief that animals can sense danger. “Our dog loves everybody,” says Sue. “But he hated Dhillon.” A second warning sign.

By his second visit, Sue and her husband knew that he wasn’t the guy for Alice.
“He stayed with us for a weekend and the entire time he talked about buying a car,” says Sue. “I mean who does that?”

The change in the season brought the worse in Dhillon. An argument between Alice and her friend from the Sri Lankan trip showed his true colours. His controlling behaviour came to light, insisting that Alice cut all ties with her. Alice was unhappy but thought he was trying to protect her.

No one saw it coming, but Dhillon was fuelling the fire so that Alice would lose her friends. She’d have no one to turn to, expect him.

“When Alice had issues with her housemates, Dhillon would often step in and say he’ll ‘sort them out’ in a threatening way,” says Sue. “I was disturbed, but I didn’t saying anything.

“I thought these issues were experiences that Alice needed to grow up and learn to sort it out herself.”

If only Alice had sensed the danger then. Instead, she walked into the wolf’s lair.

“Her sister, Emma, had always hated him. She saw the effect he was having on her,” says Sue. “I think some of her friends saw it too.”

Alice ended the relationship when she found out Dhillon was cheating on her. Having had enough, and clearly unhappy for a while now, she conjured up enough courage to end the relationship.

That’s where things started going really wrong for Alice.

“He refused to accept that she didn’t want to go out with him anymore,” says Sue. “He used to bring her presents and sweets. When he saw that this wasn’t working, he tried everything.”

Dhillon started calling Alice in floods of tears and obsessively messaging her. Some nights she would receive over 200 messages from him.

On one occasion he threatened to kill himself because she had broken up with him. He switched off his phone and deactivated all his social media accounts.

“Alice was so concerned that Emma called up his security officer to go check up on him,” says Sue.

But when the officer went to check on him, he found Dhillon playing with his mates at a bar. His extreme attention-seeking behaviour was also a common trait he shared with other cases of stalking.

Then started the flood of messages, from fake social media accounts he had created, in an attempt to contact Alice. He got control of her Facebook account and threatened to post private images of her, forcing her to shut her account down.

“When the doorbell rang and it was the police, I just knew instantly that she was dead and who had done it”

When Alice started a new relationship, he contacted her boyfriend saying she was ‘two-timing’ and cheating on him. Unable to bear with it any longer, she turned to the police.

“The main problem was that police didn’t know how to deal with stalking because there isn’t a clear definition of stalking. It so hard to define it,” says Sue.

When Alice called the police, she described all the stalking behaviour and had spoken to them in calm manner. An later investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct found the Northumbria force had treated the case as harassment rather than the graver offence of stalking.

Dhillon was issued a Police Information Notice (PIN) order to stay away from Alice. He breached it time and time again. Things only got darker from there. Dhillon would contact Alice and repeatedly tell her that ‘he wasn’t going to kill her’.

Just 11 days before her murder, Dhillon turned up at her house at midnight and knocked on her window.

She drew the curtains and found him standing outside. Shaken, she contacted the police, but they were unable to help. Yet again found herself feeling abandoned by them.

On the night of October 12, 2016, Alice was found lying on her bathroom floor in a pool of her own blood, with her throat slit.

“When the doorbell rang and it was the police, I just knew instantly that she was dead and who had done it,” says Sue.

In April 2017, Dhillon was found guilty of murder and jailed for life, with an order to serve a minimum of 22 years in prison.

But it was too little, too late. His actions and the lack of understanding from the police side had already shattered the family. Their dear daughter was taken away from them too young.

“I had always thought this sort of thing doesn’t happen to you,” says Sue. “For some reason I thought I was immune from it.”

The Alice Ruggles Trust was established in 2017 straight after the trial, and campaigns were put into place to put an end stalking by raising awareness and to improve
legal measures taken when such cases occur.

Raising awareness of stalking and getting protection for the victim is one of the main aims of the trust.

Charities have defined stalking as a ‘repeated behaviour and the person who is doing the behaviour ought to know that he has caused distress.’

One charity has defined stalking as ‘murder in slow motion’. “When I look back at Alice, that’s what was happening to her,” says Sue.

“He wanted Alice to be his girlfriend and if that wasn’t happening then he was going to kill her. That was it from the beginning.”

Class of 2019: ‘I turned my love of ska into the only music museum in the midlands’

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Attracting thousands of visitors since 2013, Coventry Music Museum is no Ghost Town. In the latest of our Class of 2019 series, which highlights some of the best writing by De Montfort University journalism graduates, Beccy Rider investigates the museum’s success and why 2 Tone was so important for Coventry.

Every music fan has some sort of memorabilia collection. A few boxes here and there of records, magazines and perhaps the odd setlist or drumstick. Pete Chambers, curator of the Coventry Music Museum and 2 Tone fanatic, has a collection that will no longer fit in a few cardboard boxes. Instead he keeps it in glass cabinets for everyone to see.

“I want everyone to know how important and special 2 Tone was, and still is, to a lot of people,” says Pete. “I think that’s clear when you look around and see how much I’ve collected and how much people have been willing to donate to me.”

Opening in 2013, the Coventry Music Museum is the only dedicated music museum in the Midlands. With a focus on the 2 Tone genre which originated from Coventry in the 1960s, it attracts a niche audience to the 2 Tone Village, which consists of the museum, a café and a variety of shops that celebrate the culture that surrounds 2 Tone. Despite being a small, relatively unknown attraction on the outskirts of the city, 40,000 visitors from 86 different countries have descended on the museum. But it took five years, £40,000 and a huge amount of dedication to gain its success.

Pete Chambers

“I started out as a market stall that just sold old bits of merchandise and then that expanded into an exhibit student union at Coventry University called 2 Tone Central,” explains Pete. “Although that closed after a year, we were lucky enough to have built a network of volunteers who were really passionate about keeping the exhibit alive.”

Although there are a variety of artists explored in the museum, it is the dedication to the 2 Tone genre and record label that really makes the collection unique. Celebrated for its diversity, bands such as The Specials, The Selecter, Madness and The Beat merged influences of ska and reggae with punk and new wave. Peaking in the 1980s, after The Specials hit number one with their track Ghost Town, other bands became increasingly influenced by the 2 Tone genre.

“It was a genre that was so important for me to have as a teen because it put Coventry on the music map,” says Pete. “It was so infectious, you could dance and celebrate with it, or just sit and take in the message of the song. As a teen I definitely became a bit obsessed.”

The result of that obsession is a small but well-formed museum that outlines the history of popular music in Coventry. From Frank Ifield and Delia Derbyshire, who wrote the Doctor Who soundtrack, to The Primitives and The Enemy, history seeps from every corner of the room and, as Pete claims, “glorifies music culture.”

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Detailed information boards summarise the story of the popular, and not so popular, bands to come out of Coventry, along with interactive exhibitions such as a listening booth and karaoke machine. Various artists have willingly donated everything from first pressings of albums to the costumes previously worn on tour. The most impressive part of the museum though, is the recent additions brought in to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 2 Tone.

“I was so lucky to get my hands on the two exhibits I’ve always wanted at the end of last year,” explains Pete. “Jerry Dammers (keyboardist of The Specials) lent us the keyboard he wrote Ghost Town on and we restored the car used in the song’s music video from scrap. It’s a huge achievement for our little museum.”

The Ghost Town car is particularly impressive. After intense research. Pete and the volunteers at the museum successfully unearthed all of the original components of the car from scrapyards and resorted the car to its original state. With visitors now being able to sit in ad take photos of the car that became so iconic for fans of 2 Tone, the museum is even more worthy of its multiple awards.

But, as with the music itself, there is an important message behind the museum and its celebration of 2 Tone music. “2 Tone was a movement of integrity,” says Pete. “It was honest and promoted a unity between black and white. We often say that Coventry was multicultural before we knew what multicultural meant.”

Arguing that grime is now the only genre that has something to say, Pete wants to use his museum to further emphasise the message that 2 Tone brought along with it. With an exhibit that names the ‘Coventry Band of the Month’, Pete is using his platform to promote the small grass root bands that have something to say.

While it is these bands that allow the museum to exist, there is no doubt that Pete is at the heart of it. Clearly passionate about what he has created, he welcomes visitors to the museum as if they were visiting his home, with personalised tours around the museum being the norm.

His passion also has not gone unnoticed by the bands that he celebrates. Member of The Specials consider him a friend, with Pete being the first to receive a copy of their new album Encore, which was released in February. “In their new album they’re angry old men instead of angry young men,” laughs Pete. “For me, it’s a concept album that has the same integrity and grit as their old stuff. It raises issues such as Black Lives Matter and symbolises that it’s the perfect time for 2 Tone to make a comeback”.

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The Specials in Chicago, 2013. Photograph by Robman94 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The Specials and 2 Tone might well be on the rise again and, along with Coventry becoming the city of culture in 2021, it could be the perfect opportunity for the city and the Midlands to start a revolution the music industry could thrive from. Of course, Pete and the Coventry Music Museum will be there to document it all.

Class of 2019: For the love of the game – the football journalist breaking new ground in the coverage of women’s sport

In the latest of our Class of 2019 series, which highlights some of the best feature writing by recent graduates from the Journalism course at De Montfort University, Renuka Odedra  meets the first full-time women’s football writer on a national newspaper in the UK

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This year the women’s World Cup will be played in France, where women on the pitch will bid to write their own histories, but one woman has worked her way through to making history herself.

Katie Whyatt, a 21-year-old who only months after graduating from Leeds University worked her way to become the candidate chosen from many interviewed to grab the job of her dreams.

2006 was a year in which many extraordinary things happened. Facebook opened to the public for the very first time, the very first tweet was sent, a whale was spotted on the river Thames and Pluto was declassified as a planet. But for Katie it was the year she fell in love with football: “The World Cup in 2006 in Germany is kind of when I really, really got obsessed with football, because the first game I ever watched was the 2006 FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham and Steven Gerrard just basically played insane in that game.

“My parents knew I was interested in football, so the following year they got a season ticket for Bradford Football Club and I then I started following and watching them and keeping up with the football the same as any other football-mad kid.”

Katie reminisces to the time when she used to play football, where the divisions between gender in the sport started to surface an ugly side to the beautiful game. Her biggest challenge was not wrapping her foot around a football but her head around the thinking behind a ban by the Football Association. “When I was younger the FA wouldn’t let boys and girls play in the same team after under 11’s. So, me and my brother are twins and we used to play in the same team and I would train with them, but I wouldn’t be able to play on the matches on Sunday. It was a big commitment from my parents to take him to his own games and them to my own games.”

When she was younger Katie did have the chance to play the sport in a professional capacity: “I did have the opportunity to play and it wasn’t certainly something that I thought would be a possible career although I had opportunities to play for clubs that are now semi-professional and professional. Also, growing up I sometimes remember feeling that I was the only girl who wanted to play football or the only girl in the park playing football.”

So she turned towards her love of writing and her journey into football journalism by starting a blog about Bradford City Football Club, called The Width Of A Post. “As I got older, I started writing a blog about Bradford, just a chilled-out thing in my bedroom that I wasn’t taking seriously or thinking too much about and then that just led with opportunities on other sites and a chance to write about other teams.

“I did work experience with places like the BBC and it all just kind of escalated from there really. I think it was quite an organic route just as anybody else had.”

She stumbled upon the first ever role of its kind at the Telegraph on Twitter where the job was well advertised, but when applying Katie doubted that should would land the job. “My mindset at the time was I probably won’t get it,” she says, “but putting the application together and seeing the sort of stuff I’ve done and how it fits together, could lead to an experience of getting an interview which would really stand me in good stead.”

Impressed with her application she got through to the interview stage where what she puts down to everyone being on “the same page” on how women’s football should be covered might have been the big tick beside her name.

Katie Whyatt tweet

Katie remembers the first game she covered in her new role: “It was October 6th, England vs Brazil, so I started in October and it’s been nearly three months.” Seeing her by-line of the first article published in print “was a relief”, she explains. “The first one you do you’re thinking ‘what if everything goes wrong, what if there’s a last-minute goal and I have to do a re-write and what if I don’t know what I’m doing?’ I felt like a bit of a fraud, so I just felt relief like okay the first ones done and it wasn’t a disaster.”

One of the strangest things for the writer is sharing the same platform with some of her favourite football writers, the likes of Sam Wallace and Paul Hayward: “That first piece I did I think was on the same page as Sam Wallace’s column who I’ve read since I was like 13 or 14, when he was at The Independent and a really good football writer, that’s the weirdest thing, people like Paul Hayward who I’ve read for ages and ages and now we just text each other, it’s so weird.”

Katie Whyatt articles

The team at The Telegraph have been a huge support for Katie and despite her age, she encourages any young journalist who may feel like they cannot approach senior journalists. “When I say to them that oh I just feel like a bit of a fraud and I’m going to get found out and that I don’t deserve to be here. Everyone says, ‘oh everyone feels like that,’” she laughs. “Even journalists who have been working for five, 10, 15 years. It’s because it’s that kind of job where you can do a really good story and someone else leaks it first or an interviewee might pull out.”

When asked if she has ever experienced any incidents of sexism in her football journalism journey, she responds “yes”, but politely declines to go into any detail. In 2016 Women In Football in their report on sexists incidents experienced by women in football during a football season found that 61.88% of women in the industry experienced sexist ‘banter’ or ‘jokes’. 15% had been sexually harassed and 24% had been bullied.

In recent years high-profile sexism incidents in football such as BBC Sport reporter Vikki Sparks being told by then Sunderland manager David Moyes: “You were just getting a wee bit naughty at the end there, so just watch yourself. You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in” or even Andy Gray’s and Richard Keys’ infamous comments made against a match official, Sian Massey. These incidents have all happened in the past decade.

But Katie suggests that although progress is being made, sexism within the industry still exists: “I think women now don’t expect to go into a press conference and expect any sexual abuse or anything like that, but I know it does still go on. In a way, our generation can receive this sort of sexism easily as seen with the case of Karen Carney, where someone can easily send a simple tweet or message out on social media.”

Asked if she has any advice for anyone who wants to get into sports journalism, she says, “your journalism course isn’t going to be enough, or studying it won’t be enough. You have to have done the hands-on experience, to show people that this is what I’ve done of my own back and will stand you out from the other hundreds of people on your course.”

Read Katie’s coverage for the Telegraph here.

Class of 2019: ‘I’m a socialist at Eton – but I won’t become a Tory’

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Our new Class of 2019 series highlights some of the best feature writing by recent graduates of De Montfort University’s Journalism course. We kick off with Aleesha Khaliq, and the story of a socialist teenager from an East End council estate who earned a £76,000 scholarship to Eton College. 

This week has been anything but average for 16-year-old Hasan Patel. It all started at the beginning of the week from what he describes as a really shit day at school. He was tired, and desperately anticipating for his day to come to an end. Eventually, his school day did come to an end, and he embarked on his average journey home to his two-bedroom council estate flat where he lives with his parents and two brothers in Leyton, East London. He was relieved to be home.

By the time he removed his shoes and bag, he immediately noticed that the mood was different at home. His parents were acting different and the tension heightened in Hasan’s mind. Perplexed, he wondered what was going on and eagerly asked his parents in a desperate attempt to understand their different mood.

Then it hit him.

“You’ve got into Eton College!” his father said, referring to the letter that was posted to him earlier on in the day.

It took a few minutes for Hasan to process this information. Silence. A working-class brown boy would be going into the heart of the British establishment with a £76,000 scholarship. Eton College, the private school notorious for educating generations of British aristocrats and members of the royal family like Prince William and Prince Harry. Where would someone like Hasan Patel fit into this? He didn’t believe that he could do it, let alone be accepted.

His father cried. He says: “My parents were really proud and really happy. My dad got especially emotional because in India he was subject to poverty and wasn’t able to go to college as his family didn’t have the money. That’s one of the reasons why he ended up migrating to the UK looking for a better life”.

The scholarship to Eton never crossed Hasan’s mind until his head teacher approached him telling him he was capable and getting into prestigious institutions. He didn’t believe in himself, but once he got shortlisted for interviews at Eton, the faith he had in himself was restored. Statements, references, examinations that lasted over four days and three nights, and nine interviews, was a long process for him.

“The reason why I did apply in the end is because I realised that sadly, we live in a system where private schools have them resources and the teachers and the money to invest in the students. It would be stupid if a working-class kid like me didn’t apply for it,” he said.

“I feel privileged knowing I’ve been accepted, but I realise that it’s only through my hard work that I’ve got in, but I also think it’s unfair that these opportunities aren’t open to everyone, and it’s not fair that 7% of the population gets such good education, whilst the other 93% are in education that is being underfunded systemically by this government”.

“It’s going to be different at Eton because I’ve come from the background where we don’t have any money for me to go to such a school, which is why I have a scholarship in the first place, but hopefully once I’m there I hope I’m able to mix with them and not feel singled out even though I know I will be different to them because of my background”.

Outside of his Eton scholarship, Hasan describes himself as a socialist who joined the Labour party at the age of 15 during the 2017 election, inspired by the passion and drive of Jeremy Corbyn: “I’ve been quite interested in politics for a while before, but I saw how unfairly young people were being treated, especially by this government, and that really inspired me to get involved”.

Hasan uses the platform Twitter to spread his pro-Corbyn messages, where he’s since gained 23,700 followers, including politicians, political commentators, and many more. He was eager to share the great news with his followers.

He tweeted: “I’ve got a scholarship to Eton College for sixth form. I know you may be thinking – “a Corbynista teen going to private school, hypocrite!” – This is an opportunity I cannot refuse and it won’t mean my politics will change. I’ll still be the same kid fighting for social justice. I’ll still be the same boy from East London when I arrive and when I leave. I’m not joining the elite but simply getting an education my family would never be able to afford, paid by the college. I’ll return to my community better armed to tackle the many injustices we face”.

But he wasn’t prepared for the response.

He received thousands of messages and the media soon took notice of a brewing story that would surely become the subject of much discussion. Hasan says that the response has been mainly positive, receiving messages of support from Labour’s Kate Osamor and Angela Rayner. He also received messages of support from cross-party politicians such as the SNP’s Humza Yousaf.

Not all of it was positive.

“Class traitor!”

“You’re a sell-out!”

“You’re a hypocrite!”

“Champagne socialist”

And torrents of abuse filled with profanity were sent his way.

“I’ve just had to develop a thick skin and sometimes it does get to me, but I can’t let it because at the end of the day, this is my life and if I want to succeed, I’m going to take a hold of the best opportunities,” Hasan says.

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Hasan has also been the face of young Labour activists. Last year, at the Labour annual conference in Liverpool, he became the youngest person ever to speak at a political party conference. An exhilarating moment.

Flashback to the very moment in summer 2018 at Labour’s annual conference, he sits for two hours putting his hand up ready to speak. Finally, he is picked and it was his turn. Making his way to the stage nervously, he notices the crowd of hundreds. With a speech prepared just 20 minutes before speaking, he holds the paper tight, shaking, and looked to the crowd. He spots his face on the big screen opposite, and begins talking. Suddenly the passion overtakes, speaking with anger and frustration at cuts to his school and injustices. He finishes, and with adrenaline rushing through his veins, the crowd stands to give him a standing ovation. This moment created history.

“As a young BAME person in politics, I have received my fair share of racism, but it’s got to a point where this kind of abuse doesn’t affect me anymore, because it’s so irrational. If they want to attack me, please do it on my politics and not the colour of my skin”.

Hasan’s message to his haters can’t be clearer: “I know my haters love me and I love them back. They’re my biggest fans”.

“I don’t know what’s next for me. I didn’t know when I joined Labour that I’d do so well in my activism, let alone get a scholarship to Eton. It’s crazy. I want to concentrate on my studies and get the best education possible so that in the future I can do what I want to in terms of my activism.”

Hasan will study at Eton in September and hopes to study History, Politics, Drama, and Geography. “I won’t become a Tory,” he says.