The law to protect stalking victims is ‘not fit for purpose’ and must be fundamentally reformed, an independent parliamentary inquiry will conclude today.
The inquiry into Stalking Law Reform will call for new legislation to be brought in without delay to make stalking a criminal offence in England and Wales, as it is in Scotland.
It also wants a national register of stalkers, with a duty on police to inform new partners who may be at risk, a bill of rights for victims and mandatory training for police and prosecutors.
Stalking is not currently a specific offence under English law and is dealt with under harassment legislation instead.
Even now victims are faced with misunderstanding and indifference to this crime. I say stalking is mental rape.
Stalking victim and campaigner Tracey Morgan
The inquiry found victims overwhelmingly had little confidence in the system and training within the criminal justice system was “woefully inadequate”.
Harry Fletcher, of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), acted as an advisor to the inquiry.
He told Sky News: “Figures in the report show that last year over 50,000 complaints were recorded as crimes, but just two percent resulted in a custodial sentence.
“It is essential that rehabilitation programmes are developed for perpetrators in both a health and criminal justice setting to ensure that stalking behaviour is dealt with as early as possible.
“There was ample evidence given to the inquiry that, unless this happens, behaviour escalates and can result in serious injury or even death.”
I am concerned there should not be whole scale change but would agree to a little ‘tweaking’ such as creating a power to search a suspect’s house.
Hamish Brown, ex-Head of Stalking, New Scotland Yard
Laura Richards, who set up the UK’s first Homicide Prevention Unit at New Scotland Yard and now campaigns for the charity Protection Against Stalking, said: “It is time to recognise the physical and psychological harm and terror that stalking causes.
“This is about murder prevention. Stalking should be a criminal offence in its own right.”
Tracey Morgan was relentlessly pursued by a work colleague who followed her every move. He broke into her car and her home and even put listening devices in her sofa and bed.
In the end, he was jailed for life for the attempted murder of another woman.
Ms Morgan campaigned for better protection for victims, which resulted in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. But, 15 years on, she told Sky News she feels little has changed.
Clare Bernal was shot in the head four times by her ex-boyfriend
She said: “Even now victims are faced with misunderstanding and indifference to this crime.
“I say stalking is mental rape – victims still get, ‘Aren’t you lucky to have this attention, you should be flattered.’ Would you say that to a rape victim?”
The mother of Clare Bernal, who was shot dead by her ex-boyfriend at the Harvey Nichols department store where she worked in September 2005, said attitudes need to be changed as well as the law.
Tricia Bernal told Sky News: “Clare didn’t understand what was happening and it was only afterwards we realised – neither did the professionals.”
But Hamish Brown, former Head of Stalking at New Scotland Yard, believes the present law works well as it gives police the flexibility they need to deal with a “unique” crime.
“I am concerned there should not be whole scale change but would agree to a little ‘tweaking’ such as creating a power to search a suspect’s house,” he said.
He added: “The current law is excellent, the best in the world in my opinion. It is not broke, so there is no need to fix it.”