Super-complaint brought against police over stalking
Anti-stalking campaigners have launched a super-complaint against the police claiming officers are failing to identify offenders, properly investigate crimes or protect victims.
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 five per cent of cases in England and Wales ending with a charge.
Suky Bhaker, chief executive officer of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust that set up the consortium, said a significant number of stalking victims are being let down by the police.
The super-complaint, a measure used to highlight wider problems or trends in policing, is being brought ten years on from a change to the law that made stalking a specific offence.
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.”
The 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, says: “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 an inspectorate 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.
“Now the super-complaint has been submitted, we will await the outcome of the decision by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services whether it is eligible for investigation.
“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.
Donna Jones and Sophie Linden, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners joint victims leads, said: “This complaint raises some significant and deeply concerning issues with the way police are identifying, investigating, and responding to stalking.
“Stalking is an extremely serious offence that can destroy the lives of those affected and their families. The emotional and psychological impact of this crime cannot be underestimated, and it is vital that police have the tools to be able to identify and recognise the significant harm this crime causes to victims and respond robustly.
“As police and crime commissioners (PCCs), we are committed to holding chief constables to account for the service they deliver to the public and victims of crime. We will be monitoring the progress of this super-complaint closely and alongside our national partners, will carefully consider any recommendations as a result.
“System-wide improvements must be made if we are to ensure that we are effectively safeguarding vulnerable victims and bringing perpetrators to justice.”
Katy Bourne, Sussex PCC and national stalking lead, added: “It is disappointing that, after ten years of stalking legislation, the law and all the tools available to police are not being used consistently or to their fullest extent. Almost every week we hear about victims of stalking saying they reported incidents to police repeatedly but they did not receive an appropriate response.
“Stalking is still, it seems, a Cinderella crime for some forces. For too many police officers, it fails to register as a serious pattern of obsessive and corrosive behaviour that ruins lives and can end up with fatal consequences.
“Although there are beacons of good and even excellent practice across the country, victims of stalking often face a postcode lottery as to whether they will be listened to and protected. The police need to ensure that they are proactive at all times in regards to stalking so victims feel confident enough to report the horrors they are enduring and our criminal justice system needs to work harder to secure more convictions.
“I fear that, without change, more and more victims will fall silent due to lack of confidence in the police and the wider criminal justice system.
“My earnest hope also is that victims of stalking will not have their confidence in authorities shaken as an unintended consequence of this super-complaint. We do not want them to be deterred from reporting in the first instance.”