Of course, it is every young man’s worst nightmare — a one-night stand with a girl he barely knows, followed weeks later by a text message saying: ‘I am pregnant.’
So it was for landscape gardener Jamie Aitken, who was ‘pretty horrified’ to learn he was going to be a father after spending just one drunken night with a woman he had met on a dating app.
As he says, he wouldn’t be the first young man to make such a life-changing mistake. He wouldn’t be the first to run for the hills either, but he insists he did not.
Instead, he wanted ‘to do the right thing’ by Jaclyn McGowan, even if it meant months of sleepless nights trying to work out what the ‘right thing’ was. ‘I wasn’t ready to be a dad, and I wouldn’t have chosen those circumstances,’ says Jamie, now 30.
Duped: Jamie Aitken, 30
‘My mum said similar when I told her about the baby. She said: ‘Well, I’m not ready to be a grandmother either, but we have to make the best of the situation, and think of the baby’.’
Noah, the child would be called. Not Jamie’s choice (‘she made it very clear I wouldn’t be involved in anything like that’) but he liked the name. ‘When I heard it was going to be a boy, it became very real,’ he says. ‘Exciting, almost. I was still worried sick about everything, particularly how much of a part I was going to be able to play in his life, but I started to imagine what he would look like. I pictured him having blond hair and blue eyes, like me.
‘Jaclyn said she was nervous about it being a boy — she’s a very girly person — but I thought: ‘I can take care of that part. I can take him camping, climbing, all those things.’ ‘
He pauses. ‘It seems silly now.’
That’s because there was no baby. Noah never existed. The scan picture McGowan sent, showing tiny fingers and toes, was of another baby, and certainly nothing to do with Jamie. The whole thing was fake, right down to Jaclyn’s ‘bump’. ‘A prosthetic,’ says Jamie. ‘She faked the lot.’
Jamie, now 30, had fallen victim to an extraordinary and cruel deception, one which drew in his whole family and had chilling echoes of last year’s BBC hit drama The Secrets She Keeps (starring Downton actress Laura Carmichael) and ended with a police investigation and criminal charges.
Last week, at Perth Sherriff Court, Jaclyn McGowan, 36, pleaded guilty to a course of conduct which caused fear and alarm.
The court heard how she subjected Jamie and his family to a sustained campaign. She demanded money to buy a cot and told Jamie’s family lies about how he’d treated her.
‘She was full of stories of how I didn’t want to have anything to do with this “baby”, how I wasn’t being supportive, and wouldn’t even go to the antenatal appointments with her,’ Jamie says. ‘It was all lies. She was sending me abusive messages, refusing to have anything to do with me but telling my family I was trying to get out of my responsibilities.
‘She tried to pit my own family against me, and my brother was in despair, too, also trying to do the decent thing.
‘He told her he promised to be the best uncle he could be. She drew my parents in with her lies. She just concocted this whole world.’
He adds: ‘It went on for months, and I didn’t have a decent night’s sleep throughout because I was so worried and confused about everything. How could one human being do that to another? I don’t even know why she targeted me.’
McGowan’s audacious scam was not uncovered until February 2020, weeks before her ‘baby’ was supposedly due. Jamie’s father, a retired police officer, suspected a criminal offence may have been committed and insisted the authorities be alerted after a puzzled friend of McGowan’s family told Jamie she knew Jaclyn was not pregnant.
‘When the police officer had finished taking my statement, she said it was the most bizarre she had ever taken,’ says Jamie.
This is the first time Jamie, who lives in Perthshire, has spoken about his nine-month ordeal. He does so with hesitation.
‘I wish I’d never met her. I’m embarrassed and upset about it all, and I just want to forget it happened, but I do think it’s important to speak out so she cannot do this again.’
The sorry saga began on Tinder in the spring of 2019. Jamie had had a few short relationships over the previous year, but felt that, living in a very rural community, his options for meeting a girl were limited.
He could barely believe his luck when McGowan — ‘blonde, pretty and local’ — popped up as a match.
‘I was surprised to see she lived in the same area. Everyone knows each other, but I’d never heard of her. She seemed like a great girl. She said she’d been living in Canada and was only recently back in Britain, which explained why our paths hadn’t crossed. Of course, I have no idea, now, if that is true. ‘
Over the coming weeks, the pair messaged online, finally exchanging mobile numbers.
‘It was just casual chat, about what films we’d seen, places we’d been. There was a bit of flirtation, but nothing heavy.
‘Then it moved to the stage of meeting up in person. I told her I was going to a family wedding in Dundee, and she said she’d be in Dundee that weekend, too, for work; maybe we could link up?’
So Jamie travelled to Dundee for the wedding. ‘I was supposed to be staying in the hotel where the wedding was, with my parents, but Jaclyn said she had a room booked in a different hotel.
‘At the end of the evening — it was late and I’d had quite a bit to drink — I went to meet her at a pub round the corner. Looking back, it was a bit weird — I remember she wanted me to drink my pint very quickly.’
And so they went back to McGowan’s hotel, where there was more drink on offer. ‘She’d bought me a bottle of rum,’ he reveals. ‘During our chats, I’d mentioned I liked rum, and I was touched that she’d bought a bottle.
‘We started drinking that. I don’t remember a thing after the rum, but obviously we had sex. We woke up next morning naked in the bed.’
There is no suggestion that anything more than consensual sex had gone on. ‘In the morning, I felt awful. I was hungover, and I felt weird about the whole thing because I couldn’t remember the night before. We just hung out in the room for a few hours, then I went back and met my parents.’
Were they curious about where he’d been? ‘Of course. They said: ‘What happened to you last night?’ So I had to tell them. It’s not the sort of thing you share with your parents — but I said I’d spent the night with that girl I’d met online, and that I wished I hadn’t.’
For the next few weeks, Jamie continued to share text messages with McGowan. She wanted to meet up again, he says. He was less keen. ‘There was a bit of regret that we’d slept together,’ he admits. ‘I think we should have got to know each other first. I turned her down.
‘From there, it went pear-shaped, to say the least.’
Just a few weeks later, he got the text message that shook his world. ‘It said: ‘Don’t freak out, but I am pregnant.’ Obviously I did freak out — I wasn’t ready to be a father.
‘She messaged saying, ‘This is my problem, not yours’, and said she was going to deal with it.’
So began Jamie’s ‘utter nightmare’. ‘At the beginning, we were exchanging messages about what she was going to do. She brought up the subject of abortion, but later she said she wanted to keep the baby. I’ve always believed it’s the woman’s choice, so there’s no way I’d have tried to pressure her either way.’
Jamie told a few close friends and his parents about his predicament. With McGowan, he had only one actual phone conversation. ‘She didn’t want to talk to me. She kept it all to text messages — there were thousands.
‘At one point, I questioned whether she was sure the baby was mine. I mentioned having a DNA test. She got really upset, but I don’t think I was asking anything that any guy in my position wouldn’t ask.
‘Her attitude was ‘how dare you!’ She sent me another picture of the pregnancy test, with her signature on it. Why would you do that? It was just odd.
‘Then there would be messages saying: ‘You are not going to have anything to do with this baby.’ ‘
Phantom pregnancy: Jaclyn McGowan outside court in Perth
One day, McGowan contacted Jamie’s parents, whom she had never met.
‘My parents live in Malta, but she tracked them down on Facebook and told them I wanted her to have an abortion, which was simply not true. My parents already knew the whole story — but she didn’t know that. She started this whole correspondence with them.
‘I find it hard to stomach what she did to my parents, letting them think they were going to be grandparents. They were keen to be involved, we all were.
‘At one point she told my parents I’d been abusive to her, which was a lie. They didn’t believe her, but it caused trouble between my brother and me.’
Communication between McGowan and Jamie remained sporadic and fraught. ‘She’d block me, say she didn’t want to have anything to do with me, then she’d message again. I was a mess. Friends were just saying ‘ignore her’, but how could I?
‘There was no way I was going to be in a relationship with her, but that wouldn’t stop me having a relationship with the child. But how it would all work, on a practical level, was driving me mad.’
Around the five-month mark, McGowan sent a message saying she thought she was having a miscarriage. ‘Another lie,’ he says, furious. ‘She said she’d been to the hospital and had a condition — she gave a Latin name. There were two supposed threatened miscarriages. I was concerned for her, and for the baby.’
Because McGowan pleaded guilty in court, there was no trial, no insight into her motive. Scams like this are usually about money, but Jamie isn’t convinced.
‘There was one message saying she wanted me to buy a cot. If I’d had the money, I don’t know if I’d have given it to her, but I genuinely didn’t and told her that.’
Was there talk of child maintenance? ‘Once, she said she didn’t want me in the baby’s life. She said I could pay the child maintenance and then p*** off. Once she said ‘my baby doesn’t need you in its life. My dad wasn’t in my life’. If that’s the case, maybe she’s been scarred by something from her own life, but it still doesn’t explain what she did.’
One of the most baffling developments came when McGowan contacted Jamie’s brother, Corrie. ‘She’d been chatting to him on Facebook, and he was determined to be a good uncle.
‘She met up with him, pitching up bump and all. The police found out she’d bought a prosthetic bump online.’
It appears that McGowan’s sister was pregnant around the same time, and Jamie believes the scan images he was sent were hers.
It was only in February 2020 — a month before the baby’s due date — that he became suspicious.
‘I realised I didn’t know where she lived. How would I find out when the baby had been born? One day a friend of a friend said she knew Jaclyn’s family — and she was shocked when I said she was pregnant.
‘She said: ‘No, I don’t think so. It’s her sister who’s pregnant.’ ‘
Some double-checking went on. ‘This person came back and said: ‘Jaclyn’s never been pregnant.’ ‘
Reeling, Jamie told his parents. ‘My dad came home from Malta and went with me to the police station. There was every emotion under the sun going on — a bit of
relief that I wasn’t going to be a father in these circumstances, but also there was huge loss, anger, grief, confusion.’
McGowan was originally charged with stalking under Section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. She pleaded not guilty, but changed her plea to guilty after the charges were reduced to engaging in a course of conduct ‘which caused fear or alarm’ to Jamie and his family.
Solicitor Mike Tavendale said his client had a number of issues, while the court heard McGowan had no previous convictions.
She will be sentenced next month after reports have been carried out.
Her scam may have been exposed, but the questions as to why she did this are still unanswered, and Jamie has been left to pick up the pieces.
He has not been in a relationship since because he struggles to believe a word any girl says to him now. ‘I don’t sleep well. I find it hard to trust people,’ he says. ‘I keep asking: ‘Why me. What did I do to deserve this?’ ‘
Then there is Noah, who would be coming up to his first birthday if he’d not been a figment of McGowan’s imagination.
This makes for a most unusual form of grieving on Jamie’s part. ‘He was real to me, and to my parents, and I find it hard to forgive her for that,’ he says.