A report by a joint inspectorate team of the Crown Prosecution Service and the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary have show that victims’ claims are regularly either not investigated, or simply dismissed by the police.
Critical in the extreme, the report shows that victims’ complaints are routinely not investigated properly, and are dismissed by the issue of an informal Police Information Notice (PIN) to the perpetrator. In one instance, a PIN was issued after a violent, domestic abuser threatened to cut the throat of a victim.
There were 112 sample cases examined by the inspectorate team, and it was found that not a single one of them had been dealt with properly. Over 60% showed there was no risk management plan in place to help protect the victims.
In 95% of cases, the care for the victim was deemed inadequate, while 75% of cases were not even handled by a detective.
The report reads: “Harassment and stalking are crimes of persistence … It is the unrelenting repeat behaviour by the perpetrator … which seems inescapable and inevitable, that has such a detrimental effect on the victim.”
One victim of stalking remembers the words of her pursuer: “I will stay in your life for ever … I will make sure nothing in your life of your family’s ever runs smoothly.”
The number of offences recorded has been on the rise, with more than 1,200 cases of stalking and 5,000 of harassment reported in a three month period to December 2016.
The report warns that anyone can become the victim of stalking. It is estimated that 15% of adults between the ages of 16 and 59 had been victims of some form of stalking or harassment.
Stalking became an offence in 2012, while harassment has been against the law since 1997. The inspectorate’s report said that the police and the CPS often struggle to differentiate between the two.
The study says: “We found that stalking, in particular, was misunderstood by the police and the CPS. As a result, it often went unrecognised. The police sometimes misrecorded stalking offences, or, worse, did not record them at all. Prosecutors on occasions missed opportunities to charge stalking offences, instead preferring other offences, particularly harassment.”
It is said that the absence of an accepted, single definition of stalking is a “very significant contributory factor to the unacceptably low number of recorded crimes and prosecutions.”
Cyber-stalking and harassment online account for many of the cases, often using pseudonyms and fake accounts to spread false allegations about the victims, who are often then afraid to even turn on their computers.
The report concludes: “We found that if an investigation was started, victims were often badly let down throughout the criminal justice process.
“One reason for this was the failure to impose bail conditions on perpetrators, which sometimes left the victim at risk of further offending.
“The increasing prevalence of the use of digital media gives perpetrators another easily accessible method by which to torment victims.”
The report recommends withdrawing PINs from use immediately, and it welcomes the government’s plan to introduce a Stalking Protection Order (SPO) to target offenders.
“We found compelling evidence in some cases that the use of PINs meant no thorough investigation had taken place and there had been little positive action to protect the victim,” the report says.
Founder and director of Paladin, a stalking advocacy service, Laura Richards said: “These cases are what I call murder in slow motion. In all cases that I have reviewed, there was stalking, threats to kill, high levels of fear, and women not being believed.
“These are the most dangerous of cases, yet more resources are dedicated to burglaries and robberies than public protection, and there is little investment in specialist-led training.”
Alice Ruggles was murdered by an obsessive ex-boyfriend. Her father Clive explained: “Her stalker had a history of abuse, was issued a police information notice that was not enforced when breached, and we believe Alice’s fear was dismissed due to her polite and respectful demeanour.
“We have to stop this from continually happening. It seems clear to me that the warning signs are there in many cases, and there are stark lessons to be learned.”
Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, said: “We know that, compared to other types of threatening behaviour, perpetrators of these crimes are significantly more likely to escalate their behaviour.
“The CPS has made significant strides over recent years in identifying, understanding and successfully prosecuting these cases and I am pleased to note that the report highlights many instances of good practice.
“In order to drive forward improvement in our performance, we will be taking a range of steps, including the introduction of mandatory stalking and harassment training for all prosecutors.”
Director of the Digital-Trust and one of the drafters of stalking laws, Harry Fletcher said: “The report underlines what victims of stalking have been saying for the last four years. The police are not properly trained and still do not take stalking complaints seriously. This puts victims at risk of further harm. Now is the time for a major change of attitude.”