A British Gas engineer spied on his ex girlfriend by hacking into a pet camera in her home, a court has heard.
Mark Wellings, 34, admitted stalking Helen Hughes, 33, after their relationship broke down last year.
He hacked into a security camera in her home, which she used to monitor her cat and dog and into her Facebook account, Cheltenham Magistrates Court was told.
She only realised her camera was hacked when she heard it moving, reports the Daily Record.
Mrs Hughes was so upset that she later suffered panic attacks, had trouble keeping food and drink down and wanted to move out of her home.
She said in a statement to court: “Every time I see a British Gas van I feel sick and as they are everywhere, it gives me a feeling of dread and my anxiety gets bad.”
Prosecuting, Peter Ashby said Mrs Hughes, who is separated from her husband, met Wellings when he came to do some work at her house in April last year.
He said the defendant then messaged her about various things and over about two months they developed a relationship.
Mr Ashby said Mrs Hughes initially thought the relationship was good but then felt things were not right because Wellings was saying things she believed were untrue.
The court heard Mrs Hughes confronted him with what she regarded to be his “lies” and the couple broke up between September and October last year.
But feeling more and more anxious and that the relationship was not going to last, she deleted messages and pictures he had sent her.
Mrs Hughes continued to receive messages from her former boyfriend, with him saying he was ill and might not survive.
She suspected he had gained access to her Facebook account and sent messages pretending to be her.
Then on November 8 last year, after a period of no contact between them, she heard the sound of the security camera in her home turning.
Accessed by a mobile phone app, Wellings had hacked into it.
Mr Ashby said: “She knew instantly it was him, texted him and he admitted he had done it. She said she didn’t feel safe in her own home and still doesn’t.
The prosecutor added: “The access to Facebook and her camera was wholly unwanted.”
The court heard that Mrs Hughes had managed to get through a university placement that she had been working on, despite the stressful situation with Wellings.
But she still planned to move to another home because of what happened.
Mr Ashby said: “There was a fair degree of planning and it was fairly sophisticated to use an app to access a camera and hack into a Facebook account.
“It caused serious distress to the victim.”
Defending, David Brown said: “There was no intention to cause fear or harm.”
He added: “He’s of previous good character. He is remorseful and knows how stupid it was.
“He knows the impact. He’s an intelligent man with a good career who has been a complete fool.
“I’m sure he’s never going to be as foolish again.”
Mr Brown said Wellings had worked for British Gas for 15 years and it had said he would lose his job if he went to prison.
Passing sentence, district judge Bopa Rai said: “When it comes to stalking, it couldn’t get much worse than this.”
She told Wellings, who had no previous convictions: “The fact that you haven’t been in trouble shows that you don’t normally go around acting like this.”
She said a pre-sentence report revealed that he had a young child to support and his current partner was due to have another child.
She gave him an 18-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.
He was issued with an indefinite restraining order, meaning he must have no contact with Mrs Hughes and must not go to her home.
The judge also ordered him to do 180 hours of work for the community and 10 days of rehabilitation activities.
She said he would have to pay Mrs Hughes £500 compensation, a £115 victim surcharge and £85 prosecution costs.
After the hearing, Mrs Hughes said she had the camera in her lounge so she could keep an eye on her dog and cats.
She said she met Wellings when he came to her home to fix her Hive wireless heating system on the day she had split up from her husband.
She said: “He knew the right things to say and do. I look back now and think ‘why didn’t I pick up on that?’
“At the time, I saw it as flattering that somebody was caring about me that much.
But he got a bit too much. I picked up on a lot of lies.
“The anxiety made me physically sick.”
Mrs Hughes, who is training to be a social worker, added that while she knew Wellings had issues, she did not think he would go as far as he did in his stalking of her.
Regarding the sentence, she said it was fair but she was not happy that it seemed Wellings would keep his job.
She said: “I’m rather surprised British Gas are still employing him. They’re keeping him in that role.
“I don’t understand. They’re letting him go into other people’s houses. He’s not safe.
“I’m happy with the sentence but worried that other people are going to be at risk.”
A spokeswoman for Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, said: “We are aware of the outcome of yesterday’s court proceedings.
“We are taking this matter very seriously and this will be subject to our own internal procedures.”