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Stalking protocol welcomed

A new protocol between police and prosecutors is to ensure consistency of approach when tackling all forms of stalking.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, said: “It is encouraging to see more offenders being brought to justice but police and prosecutors need to do more still to protect the victims of this pernicious crime. Stalking and harassment is about the control of others and its impact can be devastating. Stalking creates an environment of continual fear with many victims feeling not only in physical danger but also suffering psychological distress as a result.

“I am pleased that prosecutors are making effective use of new stalking laws in order to protect victims and put their stalkers before the courts where previously, in some cases, we were unable to do so. These new offences enable us to bring people to court potentially before they risk going on to commit more serious crimes. The rise in prosecutions sends a message to both victims and criminals about how seriously we are taking these types of offences.”

Legislation which came into force in November 2012 allows prosecutors to bring charges where an offender’s behaviour falls short of fear of violence, but where a victim is caused serious alarm or distress affecting their lifestyle.

For ACPO, (Association of Chief Police Officers) National Policing Lead for Stalking and Harassment, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “More people than ever are being prosecuted and convicted for stalking but we know that there are still many more stalkers getting away with it and victims at risk who are suffering immensely.

“We are determined to increase the number of stalkers brought to justice and ensure that measures are put in place to protect victims even if a conviction isn’t possible; if police and prosecutors follow this protocol we can achieve this aim. I will be working with chief officers across the country to ensure that this protocol is shared and used by officers on the ground.”

The new Protocol on the Appropriate Handling of Stalking Offences, which has been jointly drafted and agreed by the CPS and ACPO, seeks among other things to ensure what the document terms ‘a robust and appropriate criminal justice response’; early and effective liaison between the police and CPS in cases; improved and consistent performance in the investigation and prosecution of stalking offences; and improve the service to victims of stalking, and increase public confidence more widely in the
ability of the criminal justice system to deal with stalking cases.

The new protocol reminds police and prosecutors to:

ensure that in every case the victim has the opportunity to provide a Victim Personal Statement to court and is able to read this out personally should they wish;
fully investigate the reasons behind any victim withdrawing a complaint, ensuring it is not the result of pressure from others;
ensure that victims are consulted on issues such as bail and restraining orders.

The protocol also instructs prosecutors to apply, where possible, for restraining orders on both conviction and acquittal in order to protect the ongoing safety and security of victims. Restraining orders on acquittal can be an added protection for victims in situations where the likelihood of abuse may be ‘beyond the balance of probabilities’, a lower standard of proof than that usually required in criminal convictions of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that 18,656 restraining orders were issued on conviction in 2013 (compared with 18,611 in 2012); and 1,667 restraining orders were secured after acquittal compared with 1,448 in 2012.

Alison Saunders added: “Stalking and harassment are particularly cowardly crimes which threaten people at home, at work and when socialising, places where people should feel safe. Our focus in this area of offending has helped increase the prosecutions we bring, and the new protocol will also help ensure that victims are guided through what can be a difficult and stressful time and that their views throughout the process are heard and understood. I hope this offers some reassurance to victims and a warning to potential criminals.”

Rachel Griffin, pictured, Director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the charity that runs the National Stalking Helpline says: “We welcome the guidance released today focused on ensuring there is a consistent approach to how victims of stalking are treated across England and Wales. We often hear from victims of stalking through the National Stalking Helpline who need more and better support through both the investigation and trial process, so we hope that the clearer guidance released today will aid in ensuring these victims get the help they deserve.

“Stalking is a highly complex crime that has devastating impacts on a victim and because of this we are pleased that the very real issue of online stalking has been addressed in the protocols. The next steps have to be to ensure that all officers are trained to ensure that the guidance in the protocols become a reality for every victim of stalking.”

Stats

The authorities make the point that stalking-related prosecutions are rising – although, given that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust reckons that one in five women will experience stalking at some point, still very few. After the first full year of operation, new stalking legislation has seen 743 cases brought to court.

Prosecutions for all stalking and harassment offences, using new and older legislation, increased by more than 20 per cent in 2013/14 (from 8648 in 2012/13 to 10,535 last year). Breaches of restraining and non-molestation orders, the vast majority of which relate to domestic violence cases and can involve stalking-related behaviours, have also seen a 14.6pc rise in prosecutions brought to court in 2013/14 (from 15,838 to 18,149).


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