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Fife walking route creeper branded ‘significant risk’ and remanded

Russell targeted women as they exercised during lockdown.

A prowler who hid in bushes beside lanes, footpaths and cycle tracks, jumping out and following lone women taking Covid-restricted daily exercise, has been jailed.

Mark Russell, 33, shadowed and terrified ten women walkers or joggers, across Clackmannanshire and part of Fife.

The full details of his “weird and alarming” six month campaign were revealed at Alloa Sheriff Court for the first time.

Prosecutor Susannah Hutchison said one 60-year-old woman became “so unsettled” she feared to go out alone.

Repeatedly followed first victim

Ms Hutchison said: “In December 2019 she became aware of him passing on his bicycle and entering a wooded area near her home.

“She initially thought his behaviour was unusual.

“As the weeks passed, she became aware of him stepping out behind her as she passed.”

One evening in January, 2020, as she was returning home about 9.10 pm, he stepped out then walked “very close” behind her for 30 yards.

Eventually, she changed her routine and would not leave her house unaccompanied.

She contacted police and Russell was traced and warned.

Ignored police warning

Less than two months later, however, two women, aged 40 and 44, saw Russell “turn to face them” as they were out running on the old railway line from Dollar to Tillicoultry.

Ms Hutchison said they were “so unsettled by his demeanour” they immediately turned and ran back the way they had come.

They had run for a full mile when they heard footsteps behind them and Russell ran between them.

They repeatedly slowed to let him get ahead but he copied them until they were all at walking pace.

Chased mother and child

The following month, a 46-year-old mother, walking with her children on the same rail track, saw Russell fewer than three feet behind her.

He went out of his way to remain “uncomfortably” close and she began to fear his intentions and became worried for her children.

Ms Hutchison said: “She kept increasing her pace but was continually matched by Russell, who remained very close behind her.”

Eventually she and her children were running, as was Russell, “adjacent and in close proximity”.

To try to put distance between them, the mother then slowed to a walk and Russell did likewise.

Eventually he turned up a set of steps, then turned back and walked straight towards and then past the woman, whom Ms Hutchison said was “by now very fearful”.

Teenager terrified

On April 21, 2020, about 4.25 pm, he shadowed and terrified an 18-year-old girl on Back Road, Dollar, before hiding in bushes.

On May 3, 2020, he was arrested and released after giving an undertaking he would “stay away” from cycle paths and popular walking routes.

He breached this only four days later by lurking in bushes on an old railway line which is now part of the West Fife Way cycle route from Clackmannan to Dunfermline and “staring” at two 28-year-old women walkers.

He “kept appearing, looking towards them, and returning to the bushes”, the court heard.

He then followed them closely, “mirroring their pace”.

Police called in again

He also “scared” a 31-year-old woman running on the same Devon Way cycle track with her 11-month-old baby in a buggy and a 52-year-old woman walking home in Alva one evening from a parish church meeting.

He frightened a 58-year-old woman who was running alone on a country road near the Linn Mill Bridge landmark, over the Black Devon River.

In this case, Russell, having concealed himself near the historic bridge, suddenly emerged as she passed.

Ms Hutchison said: “He didn’t say anything but the way he jumped out gave her a fright, and made her feel uneasy.”

The woman ran off as fast as she could and after reading about similar incidents, contacted police.

‘Alarming views on women’

Russell, of Dollar, Clackmannanshire, appeared in court by video link.

He had previously pled guilty to eight offences of threatening behaviour and a ninth of breaching an undertaking, all between November 21, 2019 and May 7, 2020.

The court heard he repeatedly failed to observe Covid-19 social distancing guidelines while carrying out his prowling.

Solicitor Erin Monaghan, defending, said while Russell’s behaviour was “weird, alarming and on any view concerning” it did not meet the legislative test for having “a significant sexual element” to it.

She admitted: “He clearly has alarming views on women.”

Remanded due to ‘significant risk’

Sheriff Neil Bowie said remarks Russell had made to a social worker about women – which were not revealed in open court – meant it was no longer safe for him to be at large while a report on him was prepared by a forensic psychologist.

He ruled there was  a “significant sexual element”.

He said: “He’s made comments that are concerning and there’s a significant risk if he remains at liberty.

“It was always females he was approaching, of various ages, alone or in couples, overly closely.”

Revoking bail, he deferred sentence until January 6 for the psychologist’s report.