Stalking super-complaint filed against police over ‘failure’ to protect victims

Keen horse rider Gracie Spinks, 23, was found dead in a field in the Derbyshire village of Duckmanton (Gracie Spinks/Facebook)
Keen horse rider Gracie Spinks, 23, was found dead in a field in the Derbyshire village of Duckmanton (Gracie Spinks/Facebook)

Anti-stalking campaigners have launched a super-complaint against police over what they say are failures in their approach to tackling the crime.

A group of 21 expert individuals and organisations, called the National Stalking Consortium, says there are systemic issues in how stalking is dealt with, with only 5 per cent of cases in England and Wales ending with a charge.

They say police are failing to identify offenders, properly investigate crimes or protect victims.

Suky Bhaker, CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust that set up the consortium, said a significant number of stalking victims were being let down by the police.

The super-complaint, a measure used to highlight wider problems or trends in policing, is being brought 10 years on from a change to the law that made stalking a specific offence.

In a recent case, Gracie Spinks, 23, was killed in Derbyshire by a former colleague who stalked her. Sellers was found dead nearby and an inquest into their deaths is expected to look at police failings.

Ms Spinks had complained to the police about her stalker, Michael Sellers, before her death and her family believe that if the police “had done their job properly, Gracie would still be alive today”.

Ms Bhaker said: “We support thousands of victims every year across our National Stalking Service and a significant number of them tell us that they are being let down by the police and the courts at every step of their journey to justice.

“Failure to identify and investigate stalking at the earliest possible opportunity results in an increasing risk of physical and psychological harm to the victim.

“We hope that the outcome of this super-complaint will result in robust recommendations to improve the police response to stalking across the country which is so vitally needed.”

It comes as GB news presenter Ellie Costella revealed that she was left fearing for her safety after a former Airline star stalked her - even turning up at her TV studio when she wasn’t there.

Ms Costello told the Daily Mail that the ordeal has made her nervous getting out of cars and going to places by herself.

“I have a security officer to make me feel safe at work,” she said.

Leo Jones, 41, started sending Ms Costello inappropriate messages after she interviewed him on Zoom for a segment on travel disruption on GB News.

He has now been given a 26-week custodial sentence, suspended for two years.

“The last 16 months have been ones of constant worry, constant stress and constant strain on my life,” Ms Costello told the court during his sentencing.

She later added: “All I wanted out of this was a restraining order because then I can feel safe. So the fact I’ve got one for five years is fantastic.”

Figures from the year up to March 2022 show that only five per cent of stalking reports end up in someone being charged by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Campaigners claim police are failing to identify patterns of behaviour and often treat incidents as lower-level crimes such as malicious communications or criminal damage.

They say they are “highly concerned” that reports of stalking are not properly investigated due to officers incorrectly believing there is not enough evidence, and that stalking protection orders are not used often enough.

Claire Waxman, victims commissioner for London and herself a victim of stalking, said: “Too many stalking victims are being let down by the police and wider justice system - with stalking behaviours being ignored or minimised, and breaches of restraining orders not taken seriously enough.

“I fully support the National Stalking Consortium’s super-complaint, which highlights a number of failures in the way stalking cases are being dealt with, leaving victims at risk of further harm and causing unnecessary distress.

“While I hoped the revised stalking legislation would lead to better protections and justice for victims, ten years on the charge rate remains unacceptably low.

“It is clear the justice system is still struggling to identify and tackle stalking robustly, leaving too many victims suffering and at risk. Change is well overdue as stalking victims deserve to be protected.”

Once the super-complaint is submitted, a watchdog will decide whether it is eligible for investigation.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stalking and harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, said: “Harassment and stalking are serious crimes which can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and their friends and family.

“Stalking is a crime which goes to the very heart of violence against women and girls, removing their feeling of safety.

“It is recognised there is more to do to improve the criminal justice system outcomes for victims of stalking and we are working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to understand the progression of cases before the point of charge and court.”

Police in England and Wales issued more than 400 stalking protection orders in 2020 and expect the number to increase.

The number of stalking crimes recorded by forces has also risen, which chiefs claim is due to improved awareness of offending behaviour.

Press Association contributed to this report.