Belfast Telegraph

Stalking law call as Northern Ireland harassment cases rise by almost 1,000%

By Aaron Tinney

Harassment cases have soared by nearly 1,000% in the last 19 years in Northern Ireland - yet there are still no stalking laws here to protect victims.

Social media and smartphone technology that allows for easy tracking of people's movements has fuelled the dramatic rise in the offence, a police source told the Belfast Telegraph.

We uncovered how almost seven people a day are harassed in Northern Ireland after revealing how stalking victims fear the Stormont power-sharing stalemate could put a freeze for years on specific laws to deal with the problem here.

Police statistics seen by the Belfast Telegraph show there were only 234 cases of harassment in 1998/99. There were 2,449 cases in 2016/17 - a rise of 947%.

It equates to almost seven instances of harassment a day in Northern Ireland. The highest number of offences since 1998 came in 2014/15, when 3,059 instances were recorded by police.

A police source said: "Cases of harassment have been steadily on the rise since 1998, and there is a direct correlation between the development of 'smart' technology that tracks people's movements and the increase.

"A lot of stalking victims are unaware the people stalking them may have installed tracking software on their laptops and mobile phones that reveals their identity. The rise in cases has also been caused by the ease with which social media can be used to harass, bully and intimidate people."

The source added: "It is time for people to become much more tech-savvy and aware of how they are being traced."

Vicky Clarke, who founded support group Stalking NI after being harassed by a former partner for five years, is fighting for new stalking legislation here.

In England and Wales, a Bill making stalking a specific offence was introduced in 2012.

However, there are no stalking laws in Northern Ireland.

Instead, prosecutions for such behaviour are brought under the Protection from Harassment Order (NI) 1997, which Vicky said was "not fit for purpose".

"Due to our current ministerial situation, stalking legislation has been put on hold, albeit along with all other business, but it is vital that the PSNI is equipped sooner rather than later to bring this crime to prosecution," she said.

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