Police receive new guidelines to stop stalkers, because minister says: ‘There is more we need to do’

New legal guidance will make it easier for police to go after stalkers after ministers admitted too many stalkers are slipping through the net.

Stalking Protection Orders were introduced four years ago and allow police to impose conditions on perpetrators not to approach or contact their victims.

But figures obtained under freedom of information laws by a victims’ charity show some police forces spend less than 10 a year.

Breach of any of these orders is a criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.

Protection Minister Laura Farris today issued new legal guidance for all 43 police forces to apply a lower standard of proof when issuing these orders.

She told Sky News during a visit to a helpline to stalk victims: “In the past, the police would have to meet the criminal law standard that is beyond reasonable doubt.

“We’re now lowering that so that all they have to do is convince a judge on the balance of probabilities, a kind of 50-50 test, that a stalking prevention order is appropriate.

‘We know that stalking, especially when it occurs in the context of a romantic relationship that has ended, can be a predictor of more serious offending in the future.

“We must continue to treat stalking with the utmost seriousness. Now that we have doubled the maximum penalty and introduced a new civil order to protect victims, we know we must do more.”

One in five women and one in ten men experience stalking

Victims say these orders are not issued as often as they should be because police and courts do not believe the legal threshold is met – even when dozens of incidents are reported.

According to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a personal security charity named after the young estate agent who disappeared in 1986, an estimated one in five women and one in 10 men will experience stalking in their lifetime.

Figures obtained by the trust under freedom of information laws show that twelve police forces applied for fewer than ten provisional or full Stalking Protection Orders in 2022-2023.

Only three troops signed up for more than 30 orders, with total orders estimated last year in the low hundreds. The number of reports of stalking to the police in that year was 116,323.

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According to the latest official figures, the number of people convicted of stalking in the period to March 2023 was just 1,955 – a rate of 1.7%.

‘Shockingly low conviction rates’

Emma Lingley-Clark, interim chief executive of the trust, said: “This year marks another year of shockingly low conviction rates for stalking cases, and continued failures of the criminal justice system to inform victims.”

Often, stalking is misinterpreted as a series of individual crimes, such as criminal damage or malicious communication, and the pattern of obsessive behavior is not understood.

‘I lived in fear every day’

Sky News spoke to a woman who was stalked for eight years by someone she had never met before being granted a restraining order.

She said: “The incidents that took place were just not right. There were missed calls and texts, and then I started noticing things like criminal damage to my car and my property. I lived in fear every day. This person infiltrated my life and my network.

“The police took each incident on their own and did not recognize the pattern of behaviour. I often felt ashamed as a victim and as if I was not being taken seriously.

“At one point I had a panic attack and a breakdown at the police station because they wouldn’t help me. I cried and said, ‘All I want is my safety.’ It has fundamentally changed me.”

It was later determined that the stalker was known to the police and had done this before.

Number of stalking reports is increasing

Paul Mills, stalking and harassment lead at the National Police Chiefs Council, told Sky News that reports of stalking – especially cyberstalking where victims are at least partially pursued online – are increasing and new software is being rolled out. to help police monitor.

He said: “Stalking is a very serious crime. We know that the consequences for the victims can last for many, many years and that they ultimately live in fear.

“It can often take a hundred times before a stalking victim actually contacts the police. And behind that lies an impending risk. We know that the individual is often fixated, and that their behavior will often escalate quite quickly.

“What we are trying to do with police forces in England and Wales is to improve the understanding of stalking from the points of contact through the research, so that we can understand the background of the stalkers and what the risk is.”

Sky News

(c) Sky News 2024: Police given new guidance to stop stalkers as minister says ‘there’s more we need to do’