A woman stalked by a radiographer after he stole her NHS files has spoken for the first time about the impact of his actions on her life and how she moved home.
Waiving her anonymity, Vivien Hamilton spoke to The Ferret because she wants to help other women who may be in a similar situation.
In May 2018, Hamilton visited A&E at Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, following an accident while moving boxes into her new flat in the town. She’d hurt her ankle and was sent to the radiology unit. It was a serious sprain, but nothing was broken.
Two months later, she received an unsolicited text from an unknown mobile phone number.
“I received a text from a number that wasn’t saved in my phone asking for who I was,” Hamilton recalls. “I wasn’t initially overly worried as I was contacting people on social media to get second-hand furniture for the move and I thought I could have been giving my contact to him for some reason. But this wasn’t the case”.
The sender, who later called himself “Andy Smith”, claimed her contact was stored in his phone with no name. At the time Hamilton wasn’t aware she was talking to the man who would become her stalker. Nor did she know her contact details, personal information, and medical records had been stolen by him from what was supposed to be a confidential system at Crosshouse Hospital.
“Andy Smith” was in fact Andrew Stewart, a radiographer from Fenwick, who used to work across the health boards of NHS Ayrshire and Arran and NHS Lanarkshire. The 32-year-old had unlawfully obtained Hamilton’s personal data, and in 2019 he pleaded guilty at Hamilton Sheriff Court to various offences after accessing the records of 200 patients.
Hamilton was one of his victims. While she was trying to work out how her number had ended up in Stewart’s phone, he turned the conversation “sexual”. He said he’d looked her up on WhatsApp, saying she was “hot”.
Hamilton found Stewart’s behaviour “unwanted and inappropriate”, and it made her “very uncomfortable”. Stewart was insistent. He repeatedly asked her what she was wearing. He wanted to know what she had worn over previous days.
Hamilton says she answered some messages but not those that were of a sexual nature, which she says became more forward. Stewart asked her out and bragged he knew “how to please a woman in bed” despite being younger than her.
“He was trying to portray this image of himself as an experienced young man that knew his way into a woman’s bedroom,” Vivien adds.
Still unsure about how Stewart might have obtained her number, she asked him to send a photo of himself, and when he did that clinched it for her – they had never spoken before.
After repeatedly rejecting his advances, she blocked contact. “The fact is, I never asked for it. I didn’t ask for any of his attention and even when I asked him to stop, he insisted on keeping in touch and continued asking me to go on a date,” said Hamilton. “He kept saying he wanted a chance.”
In September, two months after Hamilton had cut all contact with Stewart, NHS Ayrshire and Arran wrote to her and said there had been a data breach. The letter explained that a member of staff had accessed her personal details along with those of 100 other women for no clinical or administrative reason, and connected them. She was also invited to come forward if she had any details to share.
Hamilton then contacted the NHS and Police Scotland and showed her conversations to the authorities. She didn’t immediately realise the man who approached her during the summer was the radiologist the NHS letter referred to. It took the police a couple of messages to confirm his identity.
“I felt very dirty, guilty, and irresponsible for a long time,” Hamilton confesses. “After I discovered the truth about who he was and what he was doing to me and other women, I didn’t feel my story would have been understood.”
Stewart had been targeting women between the age of 20 and 40 who lived in certain areas. He used social media to track them down, learn more about them and approach them for a date.
Hamilton, a single mother of two boys, was online dating at the time Stewart accosted her.
She says because she was dating she felt people would judge her if she spoke out about Stewart’s unwanted attention, and they would blame her for not immediately recognising the danger. Even her own family.
“I didn’t feel like talking about my concerns and feelings much because I thought people would have said it was just texting. It wasn’t so serious,” she explains.
“These words keep playing in my mind. The reality is that I am entitled to have felt how I felt because stalking is not always the stereotypical story of a guy following you on the street and threatening your life. Stalking is also stealing your details like name, address, GP, medical records, phone number, and using social media to learn about someone’s life and making them feel unsafe and out of control”.
“I didn’t realise it was stalking at the beginning,” Hamilton continues. “I think one reason for it is that women are so used to taking in a certain amount of harassment and language. And it shouldn’t be like this. I played it down because I was raised in a society where catcalling and being abused in the workplace was normal and men on dating apps feel comfortable using violent language with women. After a while, you get used to it.”
Hamilton doesn’t blame the NHS for the crime, but feels “let down” knowing the data breach wasn’t discovered by the hospital. She says Stewart was only caught when another woman he’d been stalking recognised him when he was on duty – during a second appointment with the radiology unit.
Hamilton says that during the investigation, a member of staff explained to her the system should have flagged up any unauthorised access to patients’ medical records.
Thinking back to her initial visit to Crosshouse Hospital, Hamilton doesn’t recall being told how her information would be stored, or signing any document related to patient information.
“I trusted the hospital and didn’t ask myself many questions about how sensitive data like my home address, date of birth, and phone number would have been stored. I didn’t think any of this was possible”.
Following the incident, Hamilton decided to move house. “I didn’t feel comfortable living in that house knowing he knew my address,” she says. “I thought nothing could stop him from driving to my house and being resentful for having been rejected and caught. I needed a fresh start.”
Hamilton has also reduced her social media activities to feel safer. This included closing her personal blog and deleting and blocking contacts from her phonebook. Now she only keeps in touch with a restricted number of friends and people she trusts.
In December 2018, Stewart was charged with stalking and released on bail. After what Hamilton calls a “year of silence”, the case made it to court.
Stewart eventually appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court in December 2019 on charges of stalking and illegally obtaining the personal data of 32 women. During the case Stewart claimed his actions were not sexually motivated but were the results of loneliness and alcohol.
He pleaded guilty to a further 16 charges of acting in a threatening and abusive manner to other women he had been contacting between 2013 and 2018. Stewart avoided jail in August 2020 and is now on the sex offenders register while doing unpaid work.
Hamilton says she expected a custodial sentence for the crime committed, and she could have reached a sense of closure if Stewart publicly acknowledged the severity of his actions.
“I wasn’t fearful of my stalker when it happened but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” said Hamilton. “I didn’t consent to any of this and reading about other women’s stories made me realise there might be other people out there that might be experiencing something similar. Nobody should feel judged and not entitled to justice. Stalking is a serious offence with wide-ranging manifestations.
“We are used to hearing about stalking stories that end in the victim being killed or seriously injured because that’s what the media portray most of the time. But all stalking stories are equally important and we should be learning more about it, how to recognise it and report it.”
Photography by Angela Catlin
Correction note: This post was updated on the April 11, 2020 at 07:57 to remove the suggestion that a court case was delayed because of Covid-19. Covid-19 was not in the UK at the date of the court case and was not the reason for the delay.