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Stalking super-complaint “eligible to be investigated”

The complaint was first submitted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in November.

A super-complaint on the police response to stalking has today been deemed eligible for investigation. 

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust submitted the complaint at the end of last year on behalf of the National Stalking Consortium (comprises 21 stalking specialists including frontline services, victims and academics). 

In the year ending March 2022, 5% reports of stalking to the police resulted in a charge from the CPS. 

A quarter of reports across the same period were dropped due to evidential issues. 40% stalking advocates on the National Stalking Service said that the decision to close the case in these instances is made mostly by the police, a further 30% that it’s made jointly by the police and the CPS. The complaint outlined that that is of concern if the police do not fully understand stalking behaviours. 

ONS statistics suggest that 1.8 million people between April 2021 and March 2022 were impacted by stalking in England and Wales.

A number of concerns have been raised within the complaint, including that police are not investigating the crime properly, that Stalking Protection Orders are often not put in place, but further that there is a lack of understanding among officers as to what behaviours constitute stalking. 

The complaint reads: “The Consortium is highly concerned by the misidentification of stalking offences in England and Wales by the police. 

“Although there are pockets of good practice by some forces, overall the Consortium finds that there is a lack of understanding at present as to what behaviours constitute stalking, and how it impacts the victim both psychologically and physically. 

“Police often treat stalking behaviours as one-off incidents, rather than recognising the wider pattern of behaviour which constitutes the crime. It is common therefore for the crime to be treated as a ‘lower-level’ offence such as malicious communications or criminal damage, or misidentified as harassment, thus setting a course for an incorrect pathway through the criminal justice system.” 

It’s something that came up in a HMICFRS report (Police response to violence against women and girls) published in September 2021. The inspectorate found that “when officers don’t correctly identify patterns of behaviour amounting to harassment or stalking, there is less likelihood of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) advising that these are the most appropriate charges.” 

There is no legal definition of stalking, but S.2A of the Protection from Harassment Act gives examples of common acts associated with stalking (following someone, attempting to contact, monitoring someone via the internet). 

Meanwhile, the complaint outlines that anecdotally they find that evidence of online behaviours is not gathered by police. 

The complaint suggests it’s because “they do not consider it to be a crime or do not deem it to be sufficient evidence to amount to a crime”. 

“This can mean that vital evidence proving the crime of stalking is being missed or excluded thus lowering the chances of the perpetrator being convicted.”

A stalking advocate from the National Stalking Service gave an example of a client whose ex-partner had been to prison twice for breach of a Restraining Order and 4a stalking. 

When he left prison he would call the victim 100s of times each day - it’s something a police officer told her wasn’t a crime and advised her to contact the phone company to block the number. 

Recommendations made by the Consortium include mandating specialist training for officers dealing with cases of stalking, the implementation of a unified recording system across the CJS to track cases, and that police should treat two or more breaches of any order (including Stalking Protection Order, Restraining Order) as a fresh offence of stalking. The latter has been set out already in CPS guidance. 

When the complaint was submitted back in November, Sussex PCC Katy Bourne, APCC's National Stalking Lead, said the offence is still considered a "Cinderella crime for some forces".

"It is disappointing that, after ten years of stalking legislation, the law and all the tools available to police are not being used consistently or to their fullest extent. 

“Victims of stalking often face a postcode lottery as to whether they will be listened to and protected".

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