With hindsight, Claire Travers Smith can see  that the man she thought she was falling in love with was too good to be  true.
Sebastian Pritchard-Jones burst into her life  via a dating website two years ago. The photograph he sent her showed a  dark-haired, smiling 30-something man. He said he was a primary school teacher  living in London, and had a love of football and old Ford Cortinas.
When they finally spoke on the telephone,  32-year-old TV producer Claire was reassured by Sebastian’s soft, lilting Welsh  voice, his charming banter and the way their conversations could stretch on for  hours.
Claire Travers Smith hunted down her online suitor after he repeatedly cancelled their datesClaire Travers Smith hunted down her online suitor after  he repeatedly cancelled their dates
‘He said I was attractive and funny — all the  things you would want to hear,’ says Claire. Not surprisingly, she agreed to  meet him.

If there was a happy ending to this story,  Claire and Sebastian would have fallen in love, perhaps even got  married.
The reality, however, is a tale so sinister  that it should be required reading for anyone reaching out into cyberspace,  hoping to find love.
Sebastian cancelled his first date with  Claire a week after they had met online, claiming a crisis at the primary school  where he worked. On the day of their rescheduled date, he stood her up, saying  he was in hospital after tearing his cruciate ligament playing  football.
When Seb cancelled for a third time, Claire,  who was writing a blog about her dating experiences, was ready to dismiss him as  a time-waster.
Sebastian, however, wasn’t prepared to give  up on Claire. He sent her a photograph of a bottle of her favourite scent with a  hand-written note which read: ‘Why would I buy you a bottle of perfume if I had  no intention of meeting you?!?’
Claire, who had begun to realise ‘something  was not right’, looked long and hard at that photograph and at the gold bottle  of Agent Provocateur Maitresse. The bottle’s mirrored surface showed the  reflection of a figure holding a camera.
Claire blogged about her dating experiences, and found that women from across the UK had similar experiencesClaire blogged about her dating experiences, and found  that women from across the UK had similar experiences
As Claire peered at the image, she saw that  the figure looked nothing like the good-looking man she had seen in the dozens  of photographs he had sent her. She could see someone with blonde hair.
She could see someone who was overweight with  flabby arms, a round, plump face and a thick neck. In fact, Claire could see a  woman. Her shock was, understandably, profound.
But she decided to make light of it with the  online community. ‘That’s not the tall, dark, handsome Welsh stranger who had  been messaging and calling me constantly for a month,’ she wrote sarcastically  beside the photograph on her blog.
Privately, Claire confronted ‘Seb’, who told  her she was paranoid and crazy. He later sent a last, desperate, but futile text  to say: ‘I think I’m falling in love with you.’
And that might have been the end of the whole  sorry business if she hadn’t shared the strange story of Sebastian  Pritchard-Jones online.
Claire soon began receiving emails from other  women who had been duped by Sebastian or who recognised her description of him.  Over several months, a total of 14 women contacted Claire, all attractive,  intelligent professionals with a clutch of university degrees between  them.
The names he had used and his photographs  sometimes varied, but the stories he told were almost identical: he was a  teacher who had inherited a house in London’s Marylebone.
Alison Moores was involved with an online relationship with him for nine months. She has since moved to AustraliaAlison Moores was involved with an online relationship  with him for nine months. She has since moved to Australia
He loved Swansea FC and Ford Cortinas. He had  a wheelchair-bound best friend in a nursing home, a loving family in Wales and  an ex-girlfriend (or sometimes wife) who had died of breast cancer. They all  recalled his sing-song Welsh accent.
Some women had become embroiled more deeply  than others. Ali Moores, a 32-year-old recruitment consultant from  Cambridgeshire, knew him — like Claire — as Sebastian. He had strung her along  for a year, even promising marriage, before she finally broke free.
During her entanglement, which began in  January 2010, Ali used to sleep with her phone on her pillow so she could call  or text ‘Seb’ during the night. He sent roses to her and called her ‘Mrs  Pritchard-Jones’.
Today, she recalls: ‘It was a daily  occurrence to say how much we loved each other. We talked about having  kids.’
Joanna Bell, a 41-year-old chef from London,  was in touch with Welsh teacher ‘Harry Thomas’ for six months in 2011. She, too,  believed they were going to get married.
Some of the women who contacted Claire even  had phone sex with him.
But not one had ever met their online lover:  because Sebastian — or Harry or Harvey as he was also known — would always  cancel dates or not turn up.
Most of the relationships ended when the  women tired of being let down. When they tried to cut off contact, Sebastian  became abusive.
Ali recalls how, after accusing her of going  on dates with other men, he wrote: ‘I’ll f***ing kill both of you.’
Ali used to sleep with her phone on her pillow so she could call or text ¿Seb¿ during the night. He sent roses to her and called her 'Mrs Pritchard-Jones'Ali used to sleep with her phone on her pillow so she  could call or text ¿Seb¿ during the night. He sent roses to her and called her  ‘Mrs Pritchard-Jones’
Pooling all the information she received,  Claire embarked on a quest to discover Sebastian’s true identity.
Just as Sebastian used the internet to dupe  his victims, she used social networking sites to track him  down.
One of her first breakthroughs was finding  the innocent man whose photographs had been stolen by ‘Sebastian’. One of  Claire’s friends recognised that one of his pictures had been taken in a Milton  Keynes shopping mall. Extensive online searching turned up the man whose  identity had been stolen.
Claire contacted him via Facebook, showing  him the 80 or so photographs she had been sent, along with Sebastian’s mobile  number in the hope he might recognise it.
Indeed, he did. The number, he said, belonged  to someone he had been messaging via a dating website called Plentyoffish in  2008.
When he told her the name of the person he  had been texting, he confirmed Claire’s worst suspicions. It was a  woman.
Ali Moores first heard about Claire’s quest  to uncover Sebastian’s true identity in 2011. She had been so scarred by her  experience that she had moved to Australia.
By then, Ali says, she knew that he was a  fake. But she was so vulnerable that she found it difficult to escape his  fantasy world.
Joanna Bell's father was dying of cancer and she returned to Yorkshire to be with him. But even on the day of her father¿s funeral, Harry was texting her: 'I am there with you, holding your hand.'Joanna Bell’s father was dying of cancer and she  returned to Yorkshire to be with him. But even on the day of her father’s  funeral, Harry was texting her: ‘I am there with you, holding your hand.’
‘Reading Claire’s blog set me free,’ says Ali, who is now married with two children. ‘I was so confused from trying to  understand what was true and what wasn’t.’
Sebastian’s excuse for cancelling their first  date was a broken leg. The injury was so severe he was in hospital for  weeks.
An intense telephone relationship began. Ali admits: ‘I completely fell in love with him. He seemed wonderful. I had no  reason not to believe in him.’
Many of their late-night conversations stretched on for hours. Sebastian told Ali in graphic detail how his first wife,  Laura, had died two years earlier from breast cancer.
‘Talking to Seb began to take over a lot of  my life,’ says Ali. ‘We’d spend all evening speaking. He was always there for  me. There was nothing sinister about him, he came across as intelligent. I found  myself liking him more and more.’
But, like Claire, Ali found it impossible to  meet the man she was falling for. After six weeks recovering from his broken  leg, and hundreds of hours of phone calls later, Sebastian invited Ali to visit  him, but on the appointed day, instead of finalising a meeting point, he’d  switched off his phone.
By now Ali was suspicious. When Sebastian  surfaced, he sobbed to her about his dead wife and the guilt he felt about  moving on.
‘He said he was going to get counselling;  then we’d meet,’ says Ali. ‘He asked me to stick by him. I decided he was worth  holding out for.’
Joanna read Claire's blog last October ¿ and realised 'Harry' was also Sebastian Pritchard-JonesJoanna read Claire’s blog last October ¿ and realised  ‘Harry’ was also Sebastian Pritchard-Jones
They arranged to meet at the end of April,  three months after their first online encounter. Seb’s family were flying home  from a holiday in Jamaica, he said, and he wanted Ali to go with him to meet  them at Gatwick airport.
A strange first date by anyone’s standards,  but Ali says she felt as though they’d been in a relationship for  months.
She acknowledges now, looking back, that her  behaviour was not rational, but says: ‘He made me happy. And I felt  wanted.’
Confused, but still ‘smitten’, her main worry  was that he wouldn’t show up again. As their date approached, she suffered panic  attacks and was prescribed sleeping pills.
Such was her concern, she telephoned him the  night before and told Sebastian she was terrified he would stand her up at  Victoria station, where they’d arranged to meet.
‘I asked him to collect me from my house  instead,’ she says. ‘He said he’d book a taxi straight away. He called back to  say it was booked and he’d pick me up at 6am.’
When Ali woke at 5am, she called Sebastian’s  mobile and found it was switched off. Inevitably, no taxi  arrived.
Joanna Bell’s memories about the man she knew  as ‘Harry Thomas’ are equally disturbing. After meeting on a dating website,  they arranged to meet at the end of July 2011. ‘He seemed to want to get to know  me,’ says Joanna.
The name changed, but many of the details remained the same - such as his love of Ford Cortinas
The name changed, but many of the details remained the  same – such as his love of Ford Cortinas
But while ‘Harry’ always cancelled their  dates, Joanna recalls, ‘he tried to find out as much as he could about my life.  He behaved as though we were in a relationship.’
At the time, Joanna’s father was dying of  cancer and she returned to Yorkshire to be with him. But even on the day of her  father’s funeral, Harry was texting her: ‘I am there with you, holding your  hand.’ Joanna read Claire’s blog last  October — and realised ‘Harry’ was also Sebastian Pritchard-Jones.
‘The lengths this person had gone to in order  to fool us was sickening,’ Joanna says. ‘He — or she — knew exactly what we all  wanted.’
With the help of Joanna, Ali and other women  who’d seen her blog, Claire continued to hunt for the real Sebastian.
One of the women who’d contacted her had been sent roses, and she contacted the florist for the sender’s name. Ali had  received money as a gift from Sebastian, and he’d told her it had been  transferred from his sister’s account because of fraudulent activity on his own.  As the investigations continued, one woman’s name emerged again and  again.
Claire has agonised about whether to expose  their cruel hoaxer. ‘My concern is it might result in her causing herself harm,’  she says. ‘But I do believe she needs help.’
Last month, her investigations led her to a  terrace house in a town in Pembrokeshire where the woman she now refers to as  Amy Palmer lives with her parents.
The woman who came to the door was overweight  with bleached hair and was dressed casually in a T-shirt and shorts. She stared  long and hard at Claire, and at the mention of the name Sebastian Pritchard-Jones she closed the door, a look of guilt etched across her  face.
She spoke only once, saying: ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’ — enough for Claire to recognise the voice as Sebastian’s.
Today, Claire admits that she felt some  surprise when she first heard Sebastian’s voice. ‘It didn’t sound that  masculine, but then some men’s voices are like that and your brain just fills in the gaps,’ she says.
Joanna describes it as sounding like an ‘effeminate man’. Ali, meanwhile, still struggles to believe the person she spoke to was female.
But while these women have tracked down their  hoaxer, they have been left with the unanswered question: why would any woman go to such lengths to break their hearts?
This week, the Mail looked a little deeper  into 37-year-old Amy’s life in search of clues that might explain her disturbing  behaviour.
She has, say those who know her, never lived  apart from her parents, never married or had children. Despite her bubbly  persona, she has never had a serious boyfriend.
Claire saw the reflection in the metallic surface of a bottle of Agent Provocateur perfume and realised Sebastian was a woman (stock image)Claire saw the reflection in the metallic surface of a  bottle of Agent Provocateur perfume and realised Sebastian was a woman (stock  image)
The youngest of four children born to a  machine fitter and his wife, she was educated at Catholic schools, and has  A-levels and a degree which she completed via long-distance learning at  Camarthen University. She spent much of her life working in a care home for the  disabled.
The disabled friend Sebastian talked about so often, and once even put on the phone to speak to several of the women, really does exist.
His mother told the Mail this week that,  while Amy won care awards and was sent a letter of congratulation by Lord Coe  because of Olympic celebrations she organised at the home, she is no longer  working there.
She resigned in February after 13 years’  service, during which she had been promoted to deputy manager. ‘She is the apple  of her parents’ eye,’ said one relative of hers. ‘She would do anything for  them. If she was named and shamed, it would hurt them so deeply I don’t think  she would be able to live with the fall-out.
‘She has never really had a long-lasting,  deep relationship. In fact, I can’t recall any serious boyfriends. But she is  quite an extrovert. She is great with her nephews and nieces, and loves  lavishing them with treats and taking them out.
‘You wonder what that bubbly exterior must  hide. I think she needs to be needed. Maybe she is trying to fill some deep void  of love in her life.
‘Perhaps the person she was creating online  for her victims was the man she hoped she would meet herself. I’m sure she would  have made a wonderful wife and mother. It’s just never really happened for  her.’
Whatever the truth about her motives, Claire,  Joanna and Ali’s main concern is that her damaging behaviour should stop.  Indeed, Claire reported Amy to the police after she received abusive texts from  her when their relationship was ending. But the police said there was little  they could do.
This week, a CID officer confirmed that Amy  did receive a visit from Dyfed-Powys police in October 2011 and was given a  verbal warning about her behaviour — a warning which has apparently fallen on  deaf ears.
For as recently as this week, Claire’s blog  has been receiving messages from someone she is convinced is Amy. ‘Something  about the tone is very familiar,’ she says.
One particularly sinister message reads: ‘If  you fall in love with somebody online without ever having met them, then that is  your own fault.’
Amy Palmer may have been rumbled, but the  ghost of Sebastian Pritchard-Jones, it seems, is still out there, lurking in the  darkest corners of cyberspace.