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Staffordshire joins endorsement of safety app to highlight stalking

The HollieGuard app was created in memory of a woman who died at the hands of her stalker and is now promoted by five police forces

Staffordshire has joined four other forces in promoting the use of an app designed to keep women safe.

HollieGuard is a free app which uses GPS to track the user’s location and, if they feel threatened, can send an alert to a group of their pre-chosen contacts to warn that they may be in danger by shaking the phone. The phone can also record audio and visual footage and send it to the contacts, who can alert the emergency services if the situation warrants.

If the phone is shaken a second time, a flashing light and high pitched beeping will go off to draw attention from passers-by and act as a deterrent for the attacker. It’s designed to be used by children, joggers or women who are alone and feel vulnerable.

The app was set up in memory of Hollie Gazzard, a 20-year-old hairdresser who was stabbed to death by her stalker, ex-partner Asher Maslin, in Gloucester in 2014 after a year of harassment. It was launched in 2015 and currently has over 80,000 downloads.

The promotion of HollieGuard is part of Staffordshire’s Let’s Talk Stalking, a three week campaign that started at the end of November and aims to highlight stalking behaviours in a bid to improve forces response to the crime.

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Cooke said Staffordshire has seen stalking cases rise from 250 in 2017 to 696 this year, a 300 per cent increase. 

DCI Cooke, who is head of safeguarding, said this was down to the force better identifying the signs of the offence.

He said: “We’ve invested a lot of time and resources both within the force and to external campaigns so we can say: this is what stalking is, this is what behaviours are not ok and this is when you need to report it.”

DCI Cooke said that the campaign was off the back of the Living in fear report which recognise the need to improve the police response to stalking. The report was the result of an inspection by HMIC and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) in 2016/7. It found that stalking was “misunderstood by the police” who often confused it with harassment and that “the result for victims was that offences were not dealt with appropriately by using stalking-specific powers”.

Staffordshire has engaged in other ways to raise the profile of stalking, including streaming a discussion with DCI Cooke and a victim on Facebook live last month.

DCI Cooke said the HollieGuard app was incredibly beneficial and can also give peace of mind of victims of past stalking, harassment or sexual offences.

Staffordshire have also been approaching secondary schools in order to raise awareness of HollieGuard among students.

Derbyshire Constabulary, which got behind the scheme in November last year, said HollieGuard have reported an increase in downloads after their endorsement.

Superintendent Michelle Shooter said: “As an organisation we are promoting the HollieGuard app as a tool which links directly into one of our priorities which is protecting the vulnerable.

“This app is a self-help tool, it’s free to download, and it can be used in a variety of situations from nights out to domestic abuse, or in any situation when someone may feel vulnerable, so please consider downloading it.”

Hardyal Dhindsa, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire, said: “This app is all about protecting our communities. I firmly believe we can’t do that just by arresting people, we need to equip people and provide more initiatives to do this better, and it is for this reason I am convinced this app will help protect vulnerable individuals.”

The offer forces who officially promote HollieGuard are Gloucestershire, Cleveland and Lincolnshire.

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