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Stalking should be a criminal offence

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 13/09/2016

Assembly members Brenda Hale and Claire Bailey have done women throughout Northern Ireland a signal service by revealing that they were victims of stalking
Assembly members Brenda Hale and Claire Bailey have done women throughout Northern Ireland a signal service by revealing that they were victims of stalking

Assembly members Brenda Hale and Claire Bailey have done women throughout Northern Ireland a signal service by revealing that they were victims of stalking.

By raising the matter at Stormont they have concentrated the minds of all 108 members, and also of Justice Minister Claire Sudgen on an issue which certainly deserves greater attention nowadays.

For it is a way of instilling fear in those being stalked without any necessary physical contact - although that can also be a development if the stalking is allowed to continue.

In the case of Brenda Hale her stalker was someone she did not know who out of the blue approached her in Marks & Spencer at Sprucefield two years after her soldier husband was killed in Afghanistan. He then somehow obtained her telephone number and began making calls to her on a regular basis.

It was only when she contacted police that the matter was resolved and the calls ended.

In Claire Bailey's case razor blades were stuck in her car tyres causing them to explode. Imagine the result if she had been travelling with her children at high speed on the motorway or had swerved into the path of another vehicle.

Astonishingly, given the prevalence of stalking, it is not a specified legal offence in Northern Ireland. Yet we regularly read or hear of women - and occasionally men - being stalked via social media, telephone or by physical calls to their homes or workplaces.

It is often discovered that stalkers are delusional, believing that the victims really do want a relationship of some kind with them. Quite naturally that leaves the victims in even greater fear. As Mrs Hale pointed out she often lay awake at night wondering if her stalker was outside - he was actually in Dublin - and if she and her two young children were safe.

As the law stands it is difficult for victims to obtain non-harrassment or non-molestation orders, especially if the stalking is done remotely. Quite rightly Mrs Hale describes it as a hidden crime often going unreported because of the difficulty of stopping it.

While the Justice Minister has not committed to introduce an offence of stalking, it is clear from the cross-party opinions in the Assembly that such a move would gain popular support. No one deserves to have their life turned upside down and anyone guilty of doing that should be punished.

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