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Friday, 11 May 2018

New initiative will see victims of stalking being alerted when offenders are nearby

Written by Jamie Johnson

Stalkers could be made to wear electronic tags and their victims would receive message alerts when offenders are nearby, police have said.

The new initiatives were unveiled for London as Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick admitted the force had failed stalking victims in the past.

The number of stalking cases dealt with by the Met nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017 and it is feared many more cases go unreported.

Ms Dick told reporters: "I am not here to defend where we have failed in the past. Maybe we have not given it as much focus as we could. We are striving to get better."

A task force has been set up, incorporating police, mental health professionals, and overseen by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust aiming to bring together different agencies to look at the same cases.

Every case of stalking reported to the Met will be initially seen by the new Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (Stac), which will then decide the best course of action for the perpetrator, whether a behavioural programme, mental health treatment, or prosecution.

Detective Inspector Lee Barnard, who will be leading the unit for the Met, said: "In terms of technology, we are already engaged with a firm in relation to electronic tagging for perpetrators and proximity alerts for victims to give them a warning when the individual may be near."

Asked whether stalking was under-reported, DI Barnard said: "Some reports suggest that stalking is as widespread as domestic abuse so if that is the scale of it, we are talking about potentially thousands that are unrecorded."

The Home Office has given £1.4 million pounds to the Met Police to set up Stac in a pilot which will initially run for two years. Police forces in Cheshire and Hampshire will also receive funds, but the scope of their work will not be as broad.

The specialised Met unit will be made up of eight police officers, seven NHS mental health staff, the probation service and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, who work closely with victims of stalking. Together, the aim is to improve responses to stalking across the criminal justice system and the health sector through rehabilitative intervention for stalkers.

In over a year of research for the initiative which examined 100 stalking cases in detail, DI Barnard said he had seen "movie-like" horror stories of stalking.

On one occasion, he said, "officers went into a room and from floor to ceiling, saw handwritten all over the house, song lyrics and a large knife stabbed through a book. Some of the writing on the wall appeared to be written in blood".

On another a man who was stopped in a car had what DI Barnard called a "kidnap kit" consisting of gloves, a spade, a brick, a pole and a pitchfork as well as a notebook containing detailed movements of the victim.

One man threatened to kill his unborn child by attacking his eight-month-pregnant partner.

Latest crime statistics show that there were 1,197 stalking cases recorded by the Met in 2017 compared to 622 the year before.

Around a quarter of stalking cases involve mental health problems, said Dr Frank Farnham, clinical lead at the National Stalking Clinic, an NHS unit which treats stalkers.

He said: "I am concerned that we see a significant number of people each year that have fallen through the cracks."

"About half of stalking cases are ex-intimate partner stalking cases and mostly they are not suffering from mental illness. The other half, about half of them are suffering from a mental illness.

"I think the problem with that is often they are individuals who are functioning quite well in large parts of their life and have developed a delusional belief about the victim which means they are at a very high risk of persistence because if they believe they are in a relationship with somebody, even if there is no evidence, why would they stop?"

While there is no legal definition of stalking, Scotland Yard describes it as "a pattern of unwanted and persistent behaviour that is motivated by a fixation or obsession that causes a victim to suffer alarm, distress or a fear of violence".

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, one in five women and one in ten men will experience stalking in their adult life.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Victoria Jones / PA Wire.