THE Suzy Lamplugh Trust, on behalf of the National Stalking Consortium, has submitted a super-complaint against the police, with concerns that many officers across England and Wales are failing to identify stalking behaviours, failing to adequately investigate the crime, and failing to implement appropriate protections for victims.
The Consortium, which is comprised of 21 stalking specialists including frontline services, victims and academics, has collated evidence that suggests there are deep-rooted systemic issues across police forces that are putting many victims at risk. Only 5% of reports of stalking to the police in the year ending March 2022 resulted in a charge by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It is our expert opinion that in many cases police are failing to identify stalking behaviours as a course of conduct at an early stage, contributing to them being mischarged by the CPS.
Issues of concern include a lack of understanding among officers as to what behaviours constitute stalking, as well as treating behaviours as single incidents as opposed to recognising the wider pattern of behaviour. It is common for the crime to be investigated as a ‘lower-level’ offence, such as malicious communications or criminal damage, or to be misidentified as harassment, thus setting a course for an incorrect pathway through the criminal justice system.
The Consortium is also highly concerned that in the cases where stalking is identified, too often police are not investigating the crime appropriately, erroneously dropping cases due to a perceived lack of evidence; for example, incidents of unwanted online behaviour such as the use of social media, emails and phone calls. In the year ending March 2022, a quarter of all stalking reports were dropped due to 30,294 cases having evidential difficulties (suspect identified, victim supports action) – this is 25% of cases reported to the police. Crime outcomes in England and Wales tables, 2021/2022.
Issues relating to evidence, in cases where the suspect had been identified and where the victim supported action.
It is also evident that the detrimental psychological impact on the victim is often not being recognised (91% of victims in a study experienced mental health issues after being stalked2), nor is the risk of homicide in stalking cases (94% of femicides in a study had stalking in their antecedent history).
In addition, Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), designed to protect victims while evidence is collated for prosecution, are often not put in place by officers.
The Consortium, therefore, puts forward several recommendations to implement systemic change to improve the police response to stalking, including:
- The College of Policing must mandate that all officers that deal with cases of stalking complete training by a specialist stalking training provider, in order to adequately identify, investigate and risk assess cases of stalking;
- Police must work with the Crown Prosecution Service, Home Office, Ministry of Justice and National Probation Service to implement a unified recording system which allows one to follow the journey of a victim through the criminal justice system, and track attrition rates from reporting stage through to conviction, including sentencing;
- Police forces should consider investment in improving digital evidence retrieval for cyberstalking (e.g., in cases of online spyware and hacking);
- SPOs should be applied for at the earliest opportunity that best protects the victim – a maximum of 4 weeks between recognising the need for an SPO and its application; meanwhile an interim SPO should be put in place within 48 hours of a report by a victim or the arrest of the perpetrator, with the victim’s consent;
- Police must treat 2 or more breaches of any order (including a Stalking Protection Order, Restraining Order, Non-Molestation Order or bail conditions) as a separate offence of stalking as set out in the CPS Guidance;
- Any statutory guidance on the police response to stalking (including guidance on the identification and investigation of stalking) should be developed in consultation with experts from the National Stalking Consortium.
A decade on from the stalking legislation being brought into force, it is clear that police are failing to understand and implement it appropriately, ultimately leaving many victims unprotected. The Consortium therefore strongly urges the College of Policing, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Service (HMICFRS) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to investigate this issue in depth and put forward recommendations to reform the police response to stalking.
Suky Bhaker, CEO of Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 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 Healthcare Responses to Stalking, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 2019.
“Exploring the relationship between stalking and homicide, Prof Jane Monckton Smith, 2017.
“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 increased 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.”
Claire Waxman, Victims Commissioner for London, 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.”