‘I thought he was Mr Right, but then I found a camera hidden in the bathroom’
As she walked past her partner Stuart’s computer one sunny autumn afternoon, Victoria’s attention was caught by the picture of an adorable fluffy black puppy on the screen.
The couple had been together for 18 months and had talked about getting a dog to cement their burgeoning relationship, so Victoria couldn’t resist clicking on the image.
‘Stuart never left his laptop open, so it felt he almost wanted me to see,’ she says.
But nothing could have prepared her for what she saw next.
Clicking on the image would ultimately lead to folder upon folder containing naked footage of Victoria, all taken without her knowledge by secret cameras dotted throughout their home.
Stuart Gaunt, a 57-year-old businessman, had taken screenshots from the footage and uploaded them onto pornographic websites, posting them alongside Victoria’s Facebook profile picture in order to make her identity clear (File image)
When she asked Stuart who had sent him the ‘picture’ of the puppy, he seemed unperturbed, clearly unaware she had clicked on it (file image)
The betrayal did not stop there. Stuart Gaunt, a 57-year-old businessman, had taken screenshots from the footage and uploaded them onto pornographic websites, posting them alongside Victoria’s Facebook profile picture in order to make her identity clear.
One such photo was captioned ‘Dirty sister caught naked’.
‘I felt sick to the stomach,’ says Victoria now. ‘This was the man I loved and trusted — and in the space of a moment all that had been shattered in the most horrible way possible.’
Victoria is not the first person to have suffered such a terrible deception — but she is the first to have been awarded damages for her experience, in what has proved to be a landmark case.
While Stuart Gaunt had been convicted of voyeurism, he was left with no obligation to permanently remove the content that he had uploaded onto the internet, which had spread across multiple pornographic sites.
To do so requires specialist technicians and can cost many thousands of pounds — sums that Victoria did not have.
It was why she decided to pursue a damages claim at the High Court and, earlier this year, was awarded almost £100,000 in compensation in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.
‘I needed to know that everything could be removed,’ she says. ‘The thought of sitting next to someone on the train who had seen the footage made me feel physically sick.
‘But it didn’t feel like it’s something that I should have to pay for, because I didn’t do anything wrong. And I wanted him to be held accountable for what he did.’
It is the reason why Victoria is speaking out today, in this her first full interview.
Although she wishes to remain anonymous — only a few of her closest friends know of her ordeal — she hopes that by speaking out she can provide hope to fellow victims.
‘It feels wrong that even with a criminal conviction there is no requirement to remove offensive content,’ she says. ‘That cannot be right. In time, I would like to see the onus taken off victims to pursue redress.’
Bright and articulate, Victoria, who is in her 40s, says the events of the past five years have taken a heavy toll.
She’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles to believe she will ever again be able to trust a man enough to have a fulfilling relationship.
‘Stuart took so much from me when he took those images,’ she says. Yet for a time, she believed him to be her dream man.
In 2015, after several itinerant years courtesy of her job, Victoria, who works in sales, had returned to the UK with the aim of putting down some permanent roots.
Like many women her age, she hoped for marriage and children, and when she came across Stuart’s profile on the dating app Tinder, he seemed to be everything that she was looking for.
‘I thought he looked handsome and distinguished, if that’s not too old-fashioned a word,’ she recalls. ‘He seemed to have a quirky sense of humour, too, which I liked.’
The pair exchanged first messages, then phone calls, in which Stuart, who at the time worked for a high-end lighting company, revealed that he was divorced with no children.
Over the course of a sickening 12 hours, Victoria found not only pornographic images of underage children, but reams of secret footage taken in the shower and bedroom of the home they shared (file image)
They then met for coffee.
‘He was half an hour late, which wasn’t a great start, but after that he was very attentive,’ she says.
‘Once we started dating in earnest, there was an element of love-bombing. I remember one day we were chatting on the phone, and then he said: ‘Just look out your window’ — and there he was.
‘He had decided to surprise me.’
Before meeting in person, Victoria had revealed that she had reconnected with her Christian faith and wanted to abstain from sex until married.
‘Around the second phone conversation, I said: ‘I’m not going to waste your time, but this is where I am and it’s not something that’s going to be budged, so if it’s no deal, that’s absolutely fine.’
‘But he seemed totally unfazed. He never put pressure on me on that front during our time together, which I thought meant he cared so deeply for me that he was willing to set that aside.’
Within six months, Victoria had moved into his home outside Reading, and while Stuart showed tendencies that worried her on occasion — he could, she said, be controlling and condescending — she thought she was lucky. ‘My family and friends all thought he was fantastic. In some ways he seemed too good to be true.’
As, indeed, it proved to be, with the carapace of this outwardly successful relationship falling apart one October afternoon in 2017 when, with them both working from home, Victoria stumbled across her partner’s open computer screen in his office after going in search of a laptop cable while Stuart took a call outside.
The picture of the puppy seemed innocuous, but what lay behind it was not.
‘Without going into detail, it was footage of a little girl without clothes,’ she recalls. ‘She was talking in a foreign language. Something about it felt ‘off’.’
Enough for Victoria to take note of the website the video had apparently come from, which featured in the top left corner.
‘I Googled the name and it was a child pornography site. It just didn’t make sense. My mind was whirring overtime. I thought it must be a mistake.’
When she asked Stuart who had sent him the ‘picture’ of the puppy, he seemed unperturbed, clearly unaware she had clicked on it.
‘He said something about always being sent stuff on WhatsApp which sometimes ended up on his computer,’ she says.
Bewildered and unsure what to make of what she had seen, Victoria called a friend for advice.
The friend told her she needed to be sure of her facts before she confronted her partner. That meant waiting an agonising few days for Stuart to depart on a golfing weekend before she could investigate further.
‘In all that time, I had to pretend everything was just fine,’ she says. ‘But all the time I felt sick.
‘I also needed him to leave his laptop bag, which contained his hard drives. So I laid it on thick about how he should really not be working this weekend; that he should just decompress. Anything I could do just to make sure his laptop stayed at home.’
When Stuart finally left, Victoria double locked the front door and set about examining his computer hard drive, which was not password protected.
‘In fact there were two, and I quickly realised something wasn’t right,’ she says. ‘Once I’d plugged the hard drive into my own device, I saw images from a bathroom, which I realised was actually our bathroom from a few years before.
Victoria is not the first person to have suffered such a terrible deception — but she is the first to have been awarded damages for her experience, writes Kathryn Knight (pictured)
‘There were images of women being filmed in the shower, but it was from a really strange angle.’
Her blood pumping, Victoria went to the bathroom and, after combing the room, found a tiny camera the size of a screw secreted in the bathroom mirror.
‘This was already horribly unsettling, but then I thought, ‘Hold on, where is this going to?’
‘I fetched a ladder, got into the loft and there was a flattened hardboard box, which was covering a computer connected to the mirror camera and was recording from there.’
It was the start of a horrific journey of discovery. Over the course of a sickening 12 hours, Victoria found not only pornographic images of underage children, but reams of secret footage taken in the shower and bedroom of the home they shared.
Among them was footage of her in the shower and cleaning the bathroom naked — footage which she could see had been uploaded onto a pornographic website.
‘Then he had put a photo from my Facebook next to it, so you knew what I looked like on an average day,’ she says quietly. ‘I could see that there had been hundreds of views.’
Stuart had also taken secret footage of others, including filming the underage daughter of a work colleague. Police later told Victoria they had identified 18 victims, some of whom had also been filmed in the shower while staying at the house.
‘I couldn’t believe this was the man I loved, filming moments where you’re entitled to have your privacy and dignity,’ she says. ‘It was sickening.’
Barely able to comprehend the scale of what she had uncovered, Victoria struggled to know what to do next.
‘I knew Stuart was coming home in a few hours, and while I wanted to go to the police I was terrified that they wouldn’t believe me — and then he would be able to destroy everything.’
Aware that Stuart was departing on a week-long work trip the next day, she realised she had to pretend that nothing was amiss when he arrived home in order to buy herself more time.
‘I was basically in survival mode, trying to do whatever I could to protect myself and not compromise whatever investigation needed to happen,’ she recalls.
Victoria went to the bathroom and, after combing the room, found a tiny camera the size of a screw secreted in the bathroom mirror (File image)
‘So I couldn’t give him an inkling I had done anything. I cleaned the house from top to toe, cooked a roast, and literally stuck to him like glue until he left for his flight in the morning.
‘Then, once I was sure he was on the other side of the world, I called the police. I remember saying whatever they did to come in an unmarked car, as I was terrified neighbours would alert him.’
The police did as she had asked, but with Stuart having departed with his laptop, the only evidence they could find initially was the secret camera and the equipment in the loft.
‘It was enough for them to take a statement from me, a process which lasted three hours, and for them to arrange to meet him at the airport on his return to arrest him on suspicion of voyeurism,’ she says.
In the meantime, a devastated Victoria packed a bag and went to stay with a friend.
‘I knew I couldn’t spend another night at the house,’ she says.
Nonetheless, in order not to alert Stuart to the fact the police would be waiting for him when he landed, Victoria still had to continue the facade that everything was normal when they talked over the phone.
‘I almost did too much of a good job, because the night before he was preparing to fly back, he told me he’d fallen more in love with me than ever before; that I’d been the nicest girlfriend he could imagine in the past two weeks.
‘It’s amazing what you’re capable of doing if you know what you need to do,’ she says now.
Once he had been arrested, Victoria contacted her friends and family and told them to immediately block Stuart on their phones and social media.
‘I confided in some people, but for most I told them I couldn’t explain but that I needed them to trust me.’
It would take two and a half years for Stuart’s case to reach court, and in April 2020 he pleaded guilty to three charges of voyeurism and two of making an indecent photograph of a child.
In September that year he received a two-year suspended sentence and will be on the sex offenders register for ten years.
The conviction was closure of sorts. Stuart didn’t attempt to contact her, but Victoria was haunted by the fear of running into her ex and was keenly aware that, even with a criminal conviction, the footage he had taken remained on the web.
‘All the stuff he had uploaded was still online, most likely on multiple platforms,’ she says. ‘Stuart showed no remorse and refused to disclose the websites he used, which would have helped a little.
‘I did feel let down that the police felt the case ended with Stuart appearing in court.’
It was then, with the cost of ‘cleaning’ the internet running into many thousands, that Victoria decided to seek civil redress.
In February this year she was awarded a total payment of just over £97,000, which covered the cost of paying a specialist company to clean the internet and general damages for psychiatric injury and violation of her personal dignity.
Calling it a remarkable judgment, Jonathan Bridge, partner at Victoria’s solicitors, Farleys, told the Mail: ‘This has obviously been a traumatic experience for our client, who has been incredibly resilient and has displayed a lot of courage in coming forward.
‘We hope that the settlement we have achieved goes some way to bringing a measure of closure to this ordeal.’
Further legal action may follow. Stuart has missed the March 31 deadline to make his first payment, and Victoria cannot dispel the fear that even once she deploys specialists, the internet will never be entirely rid of the footage.
Nonetheless, she has no regrets. ‘I hope this sends a message to anyone thinking of abusing someone’s trust in this way — and to other victims.
‘It’s a bizarre feeling, because it was a meaningful relationship, yet I’ve come to realise that I had absolutely no idea who this person was at all.’
n Victoria’s name has been changed to protect her identity.