More stalkers walk free from court despite numbers of cases tripling
Eight out of 10 people accused of stalking are not charged despite reported cases to the police having tripled in four years.
Home Office statistics show that of the 10,214 stalking allegations made in England and Wales in the financial year to 2018, only 1,822 resulted in a suspect being charged.
It means just 19.6 per cent of the 9,283 cases where an ‘outcome’ was recorded ended in a charge, a dramatic drop compared to 2015 when 40.6 per cent - 885 - of the 2,181 cases resulted in the alleged suspect being taken to court.
Official figures also show the number of cases dropped because “the victim does not support action” has soared from 16.4 per cent in 2015, when 358 women abandoned their stalking allegations, to 37.7 per cent to March 2018, when 3,503 cases were dropped by the accuser.
Women’s charities and relatives of those murdered by stalkers insisted the data proved police were failing to take the crime seriously, adding that victims were often scared to pursue a case because courts failed to lock offenders up.
Patricia Bernal, whose daughter Clare was shot dead in Harvey Nichols after her stalker was repeatedly released by the courts, said: “Fourteen years after my daughter’s death, stalkers are continuing to be freed by the courts that fail to recognise the danger signs of obsessive and fixated behaviour.
“These figures show the judicial system and police must take this crime more seriously.”
Mrs Bernal co-founded Protection Against Stalking which campaigns for a review of sentencing guidelines for stalkers and is calling for mandatory psychiatric treatment for offenders.
Government statistics show 119 of the 212 convicted and sentenced stalkers in 2017 were freed - 81 were given a suspended sentence, 34 given community service, and four fined or given a conditional discharge. That compares with just 85 who were jailed.
Despite the maximum jail term for stalking being increased in 2017 from five to 10 years’ imprisonment, no one received the maximum term. Two stalkers got four years, with the majority - 24 people - being jailed between a year and 18 months.
Last month, Christof King received a nine-month sentence suspended for two years after stalking BBC TV presenter Christine Lampard and sending messages about her gravestone and a planned crucifixion.
Victoria Charleston, policy manager at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said callers to its helpline often claim officers say they will “keep the report on file until next time,” with the majority of cases being incorrectly charged as harassment.
“For criminal justice professionals, it’s easier to prove harassment compared to stalking. But, there are important differences. The offenders’ behaviour may appear the same, but stalkers are motivated by fixation and obsession. If wrongly convicted of harassment, the offender won’t get the help they need, and the victim is not entitled to better protection.
“While these statistics show people are coming forward to report stalking, they reveal the police and Crown Prosecution Service don’t always move to charge, or charge correctly.”
Katie Ghose, Women’s Aid chief executive, said the “drastic rise” in the number of women who had reported stalkers then not supported further action was “shocking”, adding that police needed stalking and domestic abuse training.
“We know it can take women a lot of courage to report stalking, and they are often too afraid to go ahead with a court case, especially if the perpetrator is an abusive and controlling former partner. There is a real fear of the consequences of retribution - on average, two women a week are killed by their current or former partner in England and Wales.
“It is clear that more needs to be done to give victims the confidence they will be listened to, believed and supported when they report stalking and go through the court process."
Laura Richards, of Paladin, a stalking advocacy service, said there was a "real challenge" to get the police to identify stalking, record it and investigate it.
"If they don’t believe a victim or take it seriously they don’t investigate it or collect the evidence," she said. "Victims fear the perpetrator, fear the process, fear police making it worse - kicking the hornets nest - and having to give evidence.https://paladinservice.co.uk/
"Again the challenge here is that the judiciary are not trained to understand stalking and therefore they handout light touch sentences. This often make matters worse and the stalker continues with their fixated behaviour."
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on stalking and harassment, said there were plans for all officers to receive updated training on stalking, in particular about how to identify it from harassment.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the Government had taken “tough action” and new sentencing guidelines will encourage courts to properly punish offenders.
A Home Office spokeswoman said the increase in recorded offences was due to an improvement in the way police crimes and showed more victims were coming forward.