OUTSIDE court this week, a convicted stalker attempted to convince the press that legislation should not apply when you’re married to your victim.

Stockton businessman Andrew Hunter had just been sentenced for planting listening and tracking devices in his wife’s car and bag. Although the pair had been estranged and living separate lives for months, he justified his behaviour by claiming she was cheating on him and said he intended to stop once he’d gathered evidence.

He tracked her movements even after she admitted to using online dating sites in a bid to move on with her life and he only stopped when she found a device under a mat in her car and reported him to police.

Hunter used his perception of her supposed infidelity as justification for a two-month long campaign of stalking and harassment that left her living in a refuge and him with a criminal record.

His lawyer told magistrates he was remorseful over unwittingly engaging in criminal behaviour by using the devices but tellingly, not for subjecting his ex-partner to a pattern of abusive behaviour that left her “constantly checking her rear-view mirror” and living in fear of being followed.

A troubling defence saw doubt cast upon the use of stalking legislation, with Hunter’s representative saying his behaviour was unremarkable in the context of a marital breakdown, only made remarkable by the means by which he stalked his wife – following her in person, he suggested, would not have led his client to court.

After sentencing, Hunter claimed that what he had done was not the same as “traditional stalking” and that stalking laws can be used “by women as a tool” to get better results in court.

He argued it could be seen as acceptable to take steps such as he did to reveal an affair and undoubtedly many will agree with him, not least those who have experienced infidelity and all of the consuming, irrational feelings it can bring.

But there is something deeply disturbing about turning over every stone in a bid to uncover infidelity and ultimately, there can be no justification for violating someone’s right to privacy by stalking them.

Whether it’s through bugging your wife’s car or covertly checking your boyfriend’s phone, it’s an intrusion and, however it manifests, this kind of behaviour is almost always rooted in possessiveness, jealousy and the desire to control.

The court heard that Hunter’s wife had not had an affair but whether she did or did not cheat on her estranged husband is utterly irrelevant.

She fell victim to a controlling stalker not because she was a cheat but because she was married to a man who believed marriage gave him the right to track her every movement.

Our partners and our former partners do not and will never belong to us and there is no level of feeling wronged that can justify destroying another’s life or dominating their existence until they are living in fear.

Hunter used his marital status as an excuse but the fact she was married to her stalker will have brought no comfort to his victim during months of violation and it will not have reassured her as she packed her bags to flee to a refuge.

For her sake, and for the sake of countless others in her position, I am glad that stalking laws do not end where relationships begin.