'More must be done' on stalking
A "fraction" of stalkers have been convicted since it was made a criminal offence and police and prosecutors need better training in dealing with the crime, an advice service has said.
Figures obtained under a freedom of information request showed that between November 2012, when stalking became a crime, and the end of June this year, 320 people were arrested across 30 police forces. Of those 189 were charged - so far six of those have been jailed and 27 given community disposals.
Harry Fletcher, Co-Director of Paladin, the national stalking advocacy service, said "The latest figures on stalking arrests and charging are disappointing but not surprising. The number convicted so far is 10% of those arrested and a fraction of all women stalked. They illustrate the need for comprehensive training of all criminal justice professionals. Victims must have confidence in the justice system if they are to come forward."
Stalking became a crime in England and Wales for the first time in November 2012, with two specific new offences introduced.
The first is dealt with by magistrates only, and applies where a person is accused of targeting someone in a course of conduct that amounts to stalking, and involves a maximum jail term of six months. The second, more serious offence, can be heard either by magistrates or in a crown court, and applies where someone is accused of causing a person fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. This can mean a jail term of up to five years.
So far, Paladin, that also trains police in dealing with stalking, estimates that one in five officers have been trained in the new law.
Laura Richards, Co-Director of Paladin, said "Stalking steals lives and takes lives. The new law is an excellent start to protecting victims but more must be done. Unless the police and the CPS are properly trained and understand the rationale for the new laws, stalking behaviour will continue to be missed and victims will still be at risk of harm. Stalking must be treated seriously by the criminal justice system."
A Home Office spokesman said it works with police and prosecutors to ensure the new law is properly enforced, although it is up to chief constables to make sure their officers are trained.
He said: "Stalking is an appalling crime which destroys lives and the Government is sending a clear message that those responsible should be brought to justice.
"We are working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure the new stalking offences are being used appropriately. Our new laws will help stop people living in fear and prevent escalation to more serious violence."