The seymour tapes, p.20
The Seymour Tapes, p.20Tim Lott
Good Lord. That’s… She never told me that.
Did she allude to it at all?
I knew she liked watching people without their knowledge and I knew she drew a certain comfort out of videoing sometimes quite banal everyday events. But I had no idea that it went that far.
What does it tell you about her state of mind?
That she was obviously far more deeply disturbed than she ever let me know. I think I’ve read about a similar case, funnily enough. In Japan, five or six years ago. A compulsive voyeur was virtually incapacitated unless he could record his experiences. It was almost as if nothing was real for him unless it was transferred into a spectacle, unless it was stored in some way.
Almost a throwback to this primitive belief about a camera stealing your soul.
Only in this version it’s the watcher, not the subject, whose soul is stolen.
Yes. Did Sherry Thomas lose her soul?
I don’t really understand what that question means. But if she did, I think it was stolen from her a long time ago.
Did she ever say anything to you about committing murder?
No. Although she did talk sometimes in a very ruthless way. She had these absolute views about right and wrong – or good and evil, as she would have termed it. She believed the only way to eradicate evil was to destroy it. She was a strong believer in capital punishment, for instance, and in retribution. I wouldn’t find it too hard to believe, particularly after what she did to poor Dr Seymour. This Manichean view of the universe was comforting to her in some respects. It provided her with a kind of solidity that her moral universe lacked. At the same time it tormented her.
Because she couldn’t make up her mind at which pole she stood. It was almost a child’s view of the world. Either people were completely good or completely bad. And she couldn’t decide which she was.
Was that the meaning of her final act?
No one knows in the end what such things mean. They are always mysteries. But her rage at her abandonment and at herself for being abandoned was boundless. What happened to her, as much as what happened to Dr Seymour, was an act of vengeance as much as an act of despair.
Did she ever talk about suicide?
She fantasized about it, but that’s not uncommon, even in mildly depressed people. Even in people who aren’t depressed.
What was the appeal – other than escape from an existence that she clearly found unbearable?
To show the world how much she’d been hurt.
‘Look what you made me do’?
Something like that. But every suicide is both universal and at the same time unique.
Is there anything else you can tell me about Sherry Thomas?
She had bad dreams.
What were they like?
One kept coming back to her. She was naked in a vast, dark sea. It was always freezing cold and the water was flowing away. The sea was getting lower and the sky was getting darker. The more it flowed away the more frightened she became. She dived, searching for the hole, as if she might be able to plug it. If she could do that the light in the sky would come back and she could keep swimming. But if the sea ran dry, she would end. Everything would end. She found a plug, and she found a hole at the bottom of the ocean. But she just couldn’t get the plug into the hole. It was the wrong shape, or she couldn’t hold her breath any longer, or a current took her away, or the hole grew as she reached for it. The water kept sluicing away, and she couldn’t stem the flow.
What happened when all the water had gone?
She always woke before it did.
What did the dream represent?
The crude interpretation would be that the water was the passage of time. I don’t really know. In fact, I think I’ve told you everything I do know now. In conclusion, all I can say is this. I wish I’d been a better therapist. I feel I should have known. Perhaps I could have done something.
As you implied, hindsight is both cruel and misleading. You can’t take responsibility. It’s irrational.
Ms Shilling gives a low, bitter laugh.
Did I say something funny?
It always interests me that people talk as if the rational part of the mind controls us. The world is out of control because we ’re out of control. Because we cannot stand against the darkness any more. It’s too big – the anger, the cry for vengeance, for atonement. Too deep within us now.
Ms Shilling, thank you. I won’t trouble you any more.
I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help.
Seymour Surveillance Tape, Week Five
This is the final tape from the interior of Dr Seymour’s house. The scene is the front room. The date is Tuesday, 29 May. The time code shows 6 p.m. Samantha is reading a book on the sofa. Dr Seymour is sitting, fidgeting. He looks nervous and unsettled. Occasionally he throws a glance at the hidden video camera on the ceiling. Samantha looks up from her book.
– Are you all right, Alex?
– You seem uncomfortable.
– Do I?
– Is anything the matter?
– What? What is it?
Shockingly, Dr Seymour begins to cry. She puts down the book and takes her husband’s hand.
– You look pale, Alex. What’s wrong?
– Samantha, do you love me?
– Of course I love you. What are you talking about?
– There’s something I need to tell you.
– It’s very hard…
– I just don’t know how…
– Oh. I see.
– Do you?
– I think so.
– I don’t know how you could…
Angrily Samantha pushes his hand away from her.
– Right. Right.
– It’s Pamela Geale, isn’t it? You’re having an affair with her.
– Pamela Geale? For God’s sake, Samantha, of course not.
– Who is it, then? Who are you sleeping with?
– No one. I’m not sleeping with anyone.
– Well, then, what is this? Are you leaving me?
– Of course I’m not leaving you. I love you, Samantha.
– Alex, I don’t understand. What have you done that can have been so terrible?
– It’s hard to explain.
– Is it?
– Well. No. It’s not hard to explain. It’s easy to explain. What’s hard to explain is why I did it.
– Why you did what?
– Samantha – I have something to confess to you…
– So you’ve said. What is it? Spit it out.
– This conversation… the conversation we’re having now… it’s being taped.
– On videotape.
Samantha suddenly goes from appearing irritated and impatient to being concerned, even sad. She gets up and puts an arm round her husband’s shoulders.
– Oh, Alex. Poor Alex.
– I’ve done a terrible thing.
– No one’s watching you, Alex. It’s OK. It’s all in your head. I know that you’ve been under a lot of pressure. With the trouble at work. With everything. But… look. You need to see someone.
– I know, Samantha. I know no one’s watching me. But someone’s been watching you.
– Right. OK, darling. Who’s been watching me? Tell me.
– I have.
– You have.
– That’s right.
Dr Seymour pulls up a chair, balances on it, then reaches up for the smoke-alarm, which covers the camera, and rips it away. The camera remains operative but is now exposed to view. His wife’s expression is of puzzlement.
– What on earth… .?
Dr Seymour gets down off the chair.
– It’s a surveillance camera. There’s one in the kids’ room, too.
– I put it there.
– You what?
– I wanted you to know. So that you could trust me again.
– I… I…
– But I’m the one who’s guilty of not trusting you. I thought… I thought you were having an affair with Mark Pengelly.
– That’s ridiculous!
– I know it is. I know it is now. Because I’ve seen you talk to him on tape.
– I don’t fucking believe this.
She hits him in the face. It is not a slap but a punch with a bunched fist. He clutches his cheek.
– You stupid bloody idiot, Alex.
– Sorry, Samantha. Sorry. It was this woman, Sherry Thomas.
– Woman? There’s a woman?
– Sherry Thomas. She runs a surveillance shop. I’ll tell you everything. Everything. I’m so sorry, Samantha.
– Hold on a minute. Is that thing taping now?
– Um… I suppose so… yes.
– You unbelievable fool. And what have you been doing with these tapes?
– Watching them, of course.
– Shut that thing off. Shut it off immediately. SHUT IT OFF!
Interview with Samantha Seymour
How did you feel when Dr Seymour told you what he had been doing with Sherry Thomas?
I felt violated, of course. Sad. Furious. Deeply bewildered and shocked. But in a way, underneath, I understood. I knew that Alex had been in a bad way. Confused. I felt I had failed as a wife. There was a sense in which I felt I deserved it.
Did you tell the children anything about it?
Not at that time. Alex and I saw no reason to. Guy, particularly, we knew would be incandescent with rage. He is intensely private. Of course, in the end I had no choice but to tell them the whole story.
How did they react?
Very differently, I think, from how they would have reacted had they not lost their father. The general sense of intrusion, of betrayal, it all got lost in their grief for their father. I’m not sure they have ever really reacted. Never mourned the fact that their father was not, in the end, someone they could trust.
How did Alex end up going round to Sherry Thomas’s home again?
I didn’t want him to. But when he rang her – in front of me, after he’d confessed everything – she threatened suicide. It was painful for me to agree to it, but in the end I supported his decision. I came round, momentarily at least, to seeing her in the same light he did. As a kind of patient, a victim, someone who needed help. I believed him when he said he hadn’t had an affair. He had no need to tell me about the hidden cameras. He could have removed them without me ever knowing anything about them. That he did tell me convinced me of his essential integrity. He’d had a lapse, that was all.
Another lapse. After Pamela Geale.
The whole thing with both women amounted to a kiss and a wank. It hardly amounts to a grand passion.
Did he show you the tapes he had made?
Yes, he did.
What did you do when you saw them?
I thought very seriously about divorcing him. Especially when he told me he’d shown them to Sherry Thomas. I just couldn’t believe that part.
But I loved him. I’ve always loved him.
Did you have any desire to meet Sherry Thomas?
Do you feel guilty about what happened?
Of course I do. I feel terrible. If only I had stopped him going back. I tried, God knows I tried, but he wouldn’t listen. Also, in letting him return, I thought I was being grown-up. I thought I was being tolerant, understanding, making him see that he could be forgiven.
What do you remember about the last time you saw Alex?
He’d removed all the recording equipment from the front room, the kids’ bedroom and his attic. He packed it all up, said he was sending it back to that woman. He rang her, there and then, and put the conversation on speakerphone so I could listen. They had an arrangement to meet the following week but he told her he wasn’t coming. That he’d told me everything. He was very insistent about that. Everything. That any secrets he possessed were in future for his wife alone. That what existed between them was over for ever. He even asked her if she wanted to talk to me.
What was her reaction?
She was hysterical. That was why he decided he needed to go over to her after all.
Because she was so upset?
Because she was threatening to kill herself. She took it badly that Alex had told me all about him and her, and especially about her personal history. He was frank with her about everything that had passed between us on that subject – I suppose to compensate for the betrayal he’d visited upon me. He made it clear to her that he had told me everything. About her rape. About the suicide attempts. The ‘murder’. That crazy room full of videotapes. Sherry Thomas considered this a terrible violation – for him to have shared that information with me. Ridiculous that she had the temerity to be upset after what she had done to me and my family. But there you have it. You’re dealing with a lunatic here. Also, it meant she’d lost her power. She couldn’t bear it. I think in some way she had come to see Alex as her saviour – someone who understood her, who could take away her pain. A man she could finally trust. And when it all came apart she was devastated.
What did he say to you before he left?
I begged him not to go. But him and his famous conscience! He said he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if anything happened. He said he was sorry. He promised it would be the… He promised it would be the last time. So I gave in. I let him go.
[Samantha buries her head in her hands and sits silently for about thirty seconds. Finally she sits up straight, and regards me neutrally.]
Can we continue?
I want this to be over. Soon.
It will be. I promise. Did Sherry Thomas actually say she was going to do something to herself ?
She said that she would if he didn’t go round. He knew about the scars on her wrists. I told him it was blackmail. I thought if she manipulated him this time, she’d do it again. He agreed, but he said he owed her this visit.
Couldn’t he have simply rung the police?
She said that if he rang the police, she’d kill herself there and then.
Did he leave immediately?
What time approximately?
About nine thirty p.m. He drove. His car was still there when they found him.
How did you find out about what had happened to Alex in the end?
I started to get worried about two hours later. He wasn’t answering his mobile. I called the police and gave them the address. I was worried, but not seriously so. Then, another hour later, there was a knock on the door. It was a policeman. What he said was stupid. He said there had been an accident. But, of course, it was as far from an accident as it could have been. As premeditated, as cruel, as insane as you can imagine any act to be.
Terrible… Although one or two positive things must have come out of it.
At least you don’t have so many money worries any more.
That was an unbelievably tasteless remark.
I’m only doing responsibly what the tabloids did irresponsibly. And I’m acknowledging the fundamental truth that even out of the worse circumstances some good can emerge.
It’s true Alex left us well provided for. He was keen on insurance. He liked the idea of a ‘safety net’. Now at least I will be able to pay for all the kids to go to good private schools, and afford a house where they can have their own rooms. But I would live in a hovel and educate the children in a ditch if I could have Alex back.
I’m sure you would. I’m sorry if I’ve caused offence. I can see this has been painful for
Yes, it has. Do you think we could take a break now?
Author’s Note: There is a break of around ten minutes before taping begins again.
Let’s finish with you telling me a little more about the Seymour Institute. You set it up last year. Is that correct?
I’m the founder and managing director. There are so many organizations that deal with freedom of information and so forth, but there seemed to be nothing that dealt with what you might call the opposite, the maintenance of privacy. A case like Alex’s demonstrates clearly – luridly, even – what the spy culture, at its extreme, can lead to.
I know we dealt with this at the beginning of our interviews, but tell me exactly what the Institute does.
It campaigns for our right to exist unobserved. Currently, for instance, what Alex did in this household was legal. Bugging is loosely regulated. That seems unacceptable.
The Institute also works to turn the tide of ‘reality’ TV shows, which we believe are inappropriate entertainment even when the participants give their consent. We all know how Big Brother was cancelled after the last series, when Michael Parker threw himself off a bridge after being voted off. That was when society realized how disgusting and dangerous this constant… feeding off each other can be. Now Alex has died, the pressure is even greater and the support we have is terrific and growing every day.
We campaign for heavy penalties for any individual or group, professional or amateur, who tapes people secretly and without their permission for whatever purpose. We are fighting to have CCTV cameras removed from the streets of Britain to stop this turning into an Orwellian state. We are working to rebuild a half-forgotten world – the world of privacy.
Can I ask you one more question? How much do you pay yourself as managing director of the Seymour Institute?
What’s your salary?
A modest amount – not that it’s any of your concern.
More or less than you were earning as a PR?
That’s an offensive question, but I’ll answer it since we’re about to wrap up these interviews. So long as you give up something in return.
The quid pro quo.
Author’s Note: This was a battle that need not have happened. But I was not quick enough on my feet. Had I been an investigative journalist, rather than a novelist, I would certainly have known that any company has to publish its figures and that Samantha Seymour’s salary, sooner or later, would have been in the public domain anyway. A little research further down the line would have revealed that she received a six-figure sum from the Seymour Institute – £117,500, a considerable amount, which did not include any expense allowance. However public-spirited the principles of the Seymour Institute were, the private rewards for Samantha Seymour were clearly considerable.
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