A scorned boyfriend who tried to sell the house he jointly owned with ex-partner’s when she dumped him and also firebombed a neighbour’s Range Rover has been jailed.
Sixty-nine-year-old Graham Harmes waged a five-month stalking campaign against his former girlfriend Dr Margit Szel, 70, when their relationship broke down. He snuck into her luxury seaside home in Dorset on multiple occasions to move or break possessions and take important documents.
Harmes even superglued the locks and arranged for an estate agent to look around the house, take pictures and put the property on the market while Szel was away.
At one stage Dr Szel’s neighbour Jennet Bennett witnessed Harmes damage her car and reported it to the police.
In retaliation, Harmes destroyed her £40,000 Range Rover by setting it alight in the middle of the night, causing an explosion outside her home.
Harmes pleaded guilty to stalking, arson that was reckless as to whether life was endangered and witness intimidation.
At Bournemouth Crown Court, Recorder Robert Weekes QC sentenced Harmes to four years and five months in prison, with the seven months spent in custody since October to be taken into account.
Harmes, a father of three, had suffered mental health problems following the death of his wife of 43 years from a brain tumour before he met Dr Szel.
The couple had been together for seven years and bought a £1m contemporary home overlooking the sea at Bowleaze Cove, Weymouth but the relationship broke down by Christmas 2020 and Dr Szel said they agreed he would transfer his share of their property to her and she would pay him £1,000 a month for ten years.
Harmes disputed this arrangement and kept a key for the property which he started to use in June 2021 when Dr Szel was away working as a locum doctor.
Laura Deuxberry, prosecuting, said on June 7 he let an estate agent in to evaluate the property and got him to come back on June 9 to photograph the house. Particulars were drawn up and sent to Harmes and the house was then listed for sale before Dr Szel returned on June 10.
The court heard that Dr Szel found out about her house going on the market and informed the estate agents on June 15 that she had not agreed to sell it.
On October 17, Harmes called and left voicemails for Dr Szel as well as sending an email which said: ‘I have a man following you day and night. He follows you to work, he even enters the house when you are not there. He’s an old friend from years back, SAS style.’
After Harmes was charged with stalking he was released on bail on October 19 with a condition not to go to the property but within hours he got drunk, stole petrol from an Esso garage and set fire to Mrs Bennett’s car using a pair of shorts doused in petrol and put under the bonnet.
Mrs Bennett was woken at 1am by a ‘massive bang or whooshing noise’ and a bright orange light filling her bedroom. She looked out the window and saw her car alight.
Robin Leach, defending, said Harmes was suffering mental health problems at the time and the property dispute did not excuse his behaviour but did offer some explanation.
Harmes was also ordered to pay £650 compensation to Mrs Bennett and £5.80 to Esso garage for the petrol and was put under a restraining order preventing him from contacting either victim.