Class of 2019: Murdered by her stalker

Alice Ruggles 1

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.”

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