Today (20/1) sees the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders which will provide another tool for police forces nationally, as well as the courts, to help protect victims and improve their safety.
The orders will be introduced under the Stalking Protection Act 2019 and will enable early police intervention, pre-conviction, to address stalking behaviours before they become entrenched or escalate in severity.
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, who is the national policing lead for stalking or harassment offences in England and Wales, has been working closely with the Home Office, parliamentarians and partners to oversee the introduction of SPOs nationally.
Alongside the College of Policing, DCC Mills has developed a range of training materials to assist frontline officers, investigators and staff in making applications for SPOs.
He said: "Stalking is a serious and prevalent crime, which can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and those around them. Stalking impacts upon the mental and emotional wellbeing of victims and if not addressed at the earliest opportunity, can lead to the serious risk of physical harm.
"We, and police forces nationally, remain committed to doing all that we can to bring offenders to justice and safeguard victims. The introduction of SPOs is an important step in the response to these crimes."
Under the new legislation, only the police can apply for the orders, meaning there is no pressure on a victim to make an application.
Applications are made to a magistrates court and if implemented, the respondent to the SPO must notify the police of their personal details within three days of receiving the order.
Under the Act, it is a criminal offence to breach the SPO or fail to comply with the requirements. The maximum sentence for a breach is five years imprisonment.
Research by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust suggests that the National Stalking Helpline respond to over 3,500 requests for help every year. About 75 per cent of these calls are from people who have been stalking in some kind of technologically-assisted means, however, in most cases, perpetrators were using a variety of means to stalk victims including online and offline methods.
DCC Mills said: "It is really crucial that when victims of stalking are reporting their concerns to police that they are made to feel safe. We must correctly identify crimes of stalking and respond to them effectively and at the earliest opportunity, which will help better safeguard victims.
"I would urge anyone who believes they are subject of stalking to come forward at the earliest opportunity so we can work with them to protect them and address the perpetrators offending."
Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, Angus Macpherson, said: "I welcome the introduction of new Stalking Protection Orders - anything that provides victims of this awful crime more protection from the very outset should be seen as a positive thing.
"We must continue to raise awareness of stalking as a criminal offence to encourage victims to feel empowered and safe in reporting their concerns. I am aware that police forces nationally are recording significant rises in reports of stalking which is a result of awareness raising and improvements in crime recording. We must not be complacent and we must continue to put victims at the heart of everything we do. The Horizon Victim and Witness Care Unit, which I fund, helps the most vulnerable victims through the criminal justice process across our county."
Published at 8.30am on Monday 20 January 2020.