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People who have suffered repeated harassment or stalking are frequently being let down by under-recording, inconsistent services and a lack of understanding by the criminal justice system.
A joint inspection found that crimes of harassment and stalking were often missed or misunderstood by police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). As a result, inspectors found cases where offenders were allowed to continue their persecution of victims, or victims were not protected with the powers in place to prevent this kind of personal and persistent crime.
The victims described the lasting and life-changing effects these offences can have – but also said that, all too often, police officers failed to recognise the repeat and targeted actions as a pattern of behaviour, instead treating them as isolated incidents.
HMIC and HMCPSI worked with the University of Worcester to speak to victims and gain an insight into their experiences of harassment and stalking.
HM Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, who led the inspection, said: “We spoke to many victims of harassment and stalking during this inspection and found that these are crimes of persistence and control. Repeat patterns of behaviour can have a devastating effect on a person’s quality of life. Sadly, in the digital world, crimes of harassment and stalking are occurring more frequently. Police forces must act quickly to protect victims, including survivors of domestic abuse leaving coercive or controlling relationships. It is not acceptable that victims and their families are left to live in fear, or have to change their lives because of someone else’s behaviour.
“While we found some evidence that the police and CPS understand the risks of the repeat behaviours, as well as some examples of positive practice where victims’ needs were prioritised, we found worrying failings at every stage, including reporting, investigation and prosecution. Changes need to be made immediately and the recommendations in the report should be acted upon without delay to protect victims from further harm.”
Inspectors reviewed 112 cases of stalking and harassment, from six police force areas. While there was some evidence of good service provided by police or prosecutors, none of these 112 cases was dealt with well overall, said inspectors. Victims are being given varying advice, including in many cases that the individual incidents are not significant. Often, therefore, the severity of the overall situation is overlooked.
While there are powers and protection orders in place to help prevent this kind of offending, such as Police Information Notices (PINs), inspectors found most of these were constantly misused.
For the 114-page report in full visit http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic/publications/living-in-fear-the-police-and-cps-response-to-harassment-and-stalking/.
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Lead for Stalking and Harassment, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “Victims of stalking and harassment look to the police to protect them and HMIC’s report shows that we must do better.
“HMIC identified areas of good practice but we now need to make sure that’s happening consistently across the country. We will review the joint Stalking Protocol with the Crown Prosecution Service and look again at how officers can use protection orders to protect people in cases of harassment as well as stalking. We are in the process of commissioning research to give us evidence of what works, and forces will implement new guidance from the College of Policing to help officers investigating stalking intervene early and give the right help to victims.
“I will be writing to all chief constables to make sure officers are aware of the powers they have to tackle cases of stalking or harassment and that cases must be recorded and monitored in line with legislative requirements to prosecute people for the highest harm offence they have committed. We want to see numbers of people prosecuted for stalking and harassment increase, but we will act to safeguard victims even where a conviction isn’t possible.”