"All of our lives have immense meaning and value, and when we come to really realize nothing matters but humanity, we begin to really see each other, by the tragedies and joys we all share. Our smiles and our tears are what make us all the same."
It was the 13th of September 2005. A Tuesday. Twenty two year old Clare Bernal was just about to finish work for the day. Clare, who was from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom had moved to Dulwich in London, United Kingdom for her dream job in 2003.
Clare had completed beauty consultancy and theatre make-up courses in Kent and got a job at a beauty counter in Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, London. She was a skincare expert and loved her work. Clare wanted to work in a large department store and felt the perfect fit for her was the La Prairie beauty counter at Harvey Nichols. It was an expensive skincare brand and Clare knew she could really look after their customers. She wrote directly to the company outlining why she loved the brand and she got an interview. She traveled from Kent to London with her brother for her interview. Clare prepared for the interview before she left Kent and on the way from Kent to London she practiced what she would say and took her portfolio of her work from the courses she had completed with her. She got the job and moved to London and into a flat with two flatmates.
That day, the 13th of September, at 7.50pm, Clare was looking forward to finishing for the day. As the store was due to close at 8pm, there were only a few people around and it was quiet. Clare and her colleague were tidying up the counter. In a matter of seconds, Clare's colleague saw a shadow and then a man behind Clare. The man shot Clare in the back of the head and she fell to the ground. He then shot her three times in the face. The man then shot himself. It was a shocking and violent incident that had left two people dead. The man had entered via a back door and walked directly over to Clare, who had her back to him, at the beauty counter where she was standing on the shop floor of a prestigious London store and shot her dead in front of customers and her colleagues.
Police informed Clare's mother, Patricia Bernal, what had happened to her daughter and she immediately knew who was responsible. Michael Pech.
The man who shot Clare was thirty year old Michael Pech. Michael was a former soldier from Slovakia and after working at the American embassy in Bratislava, he moved to London in 2003 as part of a student visa. While Michael was in London, Slovakia joined the EU and that meant that he had freedom of movement and could stay and work there. Michael got a job as a security guard in Harvey Nichols in 2004. That was where he met Clare. He asked her out in January 2005 and they went on a total of three dates over a three week period.
When Clare first met Michael, she was flattered by the attention. He was in the middle of a divorce, his wife was in Slovakia, and Clare believed they were just dating and having fun. The relationship was nothing serious. But while Clare saw it as a bit of fun, Michael became possessed and obsessed with Clare after just one date. He even told her that he loved her. Clare was taken aback and didn't know how to respond.
During the three week period, Clare began to feel unconformable about how full on, jealous and controlling Michael was. He wanted her to only spend time with him and did not want her to meet up with friends or even go home to visit her family.
Clare felt increasingly concerned by his behavior and ended the relationship in February 2005. She made the decision when Michael returned to London from a trip home to Slovakia and told Clare that she had to meet him at the airport. She did and they went back to her flat in Dulwich and he tried to make her agree to let him spend the night there. Clare said no and he refused to leave. He told her his case was too heavy to drag across London. Michael eventually left when she agreed to walk to the train station with him. But when he refused to get on the train, that was the final straw for Clare. She told Michael that the relationship was over.
Clare went back to her flat and Michael followed her. She asked him to leave her alone but he stayed outside her flat for some two hours. When Clare's flatmate asked him to leave, he was abusive and shouted at her. While he was outside Clare's flat, he called her around twenty times. She did not answer any of his calls.
The next day, Michael went to Clare's flat again and brought a bunch of flowers with him. He again waited outside but Clare did not speak to him and she did not accept the flowers.
As Clare and Michael worked at the same store, she knew she would see him regularly. But Michael went out of his way to see Clare as much as possible. He followed her around the store and she saw him staring directly at her a number of times. Michael also used the mirrors in the store to look at her and see what she was doing. He went to her counter multiple times to ask her to take him back and he repeatedly told her that he loved her and knew she loved him.
Michael asked other people who worked in the store to ask Clare to speak to him. She did. Clare asked him to stop. But that seemed to only escalate matters. As she was leaving the store one day, he grabbed her and told her he loved her. He was shouting and said that he knew she loved him too. Clare told him that she didn't love him and he shouted:
“Yes you do, you stupid little girl.”
Michael sent Clare around fifty text messages every day. He followed her to work, got the same train as her and followed her home and stayed outside her flat for hours at a time. When Clare continued to ignore him, his text messages changed from "we were meant to be together" to “I will kill myself if we can’t be together,” and “If I can’t have you no one will.”
Apart from feeling terrified, Clare's health began to deteriorate. There was no escape from Michael. He was at the train station where she got the train, outside her flat and at her place of work. She couldn't sleep and got several eye infections as a result. She no longer loved her work and dreaded going in. She couldn't concentrate and was late. But she was reluctant to report Michael. She just wanted him to leave her alone. Her mother Patricia said:
“She was embarrassed. She felt that by reporting it, because he hadn’t physically assaulted her, she would be wasting police time.”
One day, on the 30th of March 2005, when Clare was on her way home from work, Clare saw Michael on the underground platform at the train station. To try to avoid him, Clare ran down the platform and jumped on the train. But Michael saw her and got on the same carriage as her on the same train. As soon as the train stopped, Clare got off and ran but Michael caught her and knocked her over.
It was too much for Clare. She told Michael that if he did not stop, that she would have no option but to report him. He said:
“If you report me I will kill you.”
Clare got on to another train and Michael banged the windows and shouted at her. Clare was so frightened by the threat Michael made, that she reported Michael to the head of security at Harvey Nichols. They looked at the cameras inside the store and saw the harassment that Clare told them about.
Michael was moved to a different floor but that did not stop him. He was suspended and the store advised Clare to report the matter to the police. Clare reported Michael to the police.
At the disciplinary hearing at Harvey Nichols in relation to Michael's suspension, it emerged that Michael asked one of Clare's colleagues what the maximum sentence was for murder in the UK. Clare was extremely concerned at that point. Michael was sacked and police arrested him. Michael was released on bail. As part as his bail conditions, he could not make contact with Clare. But even with the threat of returning to prison, Michael was not prepared to stop and he went to Clare's flat again multiple times. So much so, that she moved. And she changed her phone number.
In a short space of time, a matter of days, Michael found out where Clare lived and she found him waiting for her outside her new flat. Clare reported him to police and he was arrested and charged with threatening to kill.
Clare tried to move on with her life and went on holiday for her birthday in July 2005 with her mother. They had a great time in Florence.
While awaiting Trial, Michael was released on bail and went to Slovakia and spent time there at a firing range. He applied for a gun license and took part in the gun training and exams. When he passed, he bought a handgun and registered it with the police in Slovakia. Michael took a coach back to the UK with the handgun hidden inside his luggage. He wasn't searched. Nobody noticed anything suspicious. And Clare had not been informed that Michael had been released on bail. Nobody had taken Michael's passport from him which meant he was essentially free to travel wherever he wanted to.
Patricia and Clare Bernal
He was in Court again just six weeks later and he pleaded guilty to harassment on the advice of his lawyer. His lawyer informed him that the case against him was strong. The charges relating to threatening to kill were dropped. After he pleaded guilty to the harassment charge, Michael was released on bail to allow for the preparation of reports for Court for his sentencing hearing. Clare told Patricia:
"Mum, thank God it's over. Now finally people will believe me and I can get on with my life."
Clare believed at that point her ordeal was over. It was just a matter of time until he would be sentenced. But just two weeks after that last Court appearance, on the 13th of September, Michael walked into Harvey Nichols and shot Clare dead.
Michael was on high on cocaine when he killed Clare. After he shot her a total of four times, he fired a shot into the ceiling and then shot himself.
After Clare's murder, questions were asked as to why Clare wasn't protected more. It was established at the Inquest that the police officer assigned to Clare's case was young and had a heavy workload. The training involved for dealing with domestic violence incidents took one day only. It was determined the police officer failed to fill out a report in relation to Michael's threat level. But the Coroner at the Inquest determined that the police could not have known that Clare would be murdered. Even if the form had been filled out, the Coroner believed he would have been deemed low risk due to the fact he had no previous convictions. The police arrested Michael when Clare reported him. But the issue really seemed to be , like we see so often, that the accused is let out on bail. It is normally during this period, the bail period, when the victim is most at risk. There is no doubt the system let down Clare. He had twice been arrested for harassment and threatening to kill her but was allowed out on bail and during this period he travelled to Slovakia freely where he bought a Luger gun, practiced shooting and undoubtedly devised a plan in his mind to end Clare's life. The Coroner determined that Clare had been unlawfully killed but that her death could not have been anticipated.
Patricia and families of other victims set up Protection Against Stalking. They asked the Prime Minister at the time, who was David Cameron, to pass a new law which outlawed stalking and would make stalking a stand alone offense. He agreed. In 2012, the new law was passed. David Cameron said:
"Stalking is an abhorrent crime. It makes life a living hell for victims-breaking up relationships, forcing the victims to move house, making them feel they are being watched 24 hours a day. This is why we are explicitly criminalizing stalking, to make sure that justice is done, protect the victims and show beyond doubt that stalking is a crime."
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello
"My family and myself are good, decent and very honest people."
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