10 stalkers in court every week since new laws were passed but campaigners warn it is just the tip of the iceberg
- New offence created in 2012 means stalkers face up to five years in jail
- Ministers reveal that in the first 13 months, 566 cases went to court
- Campaigners warn police and prosecutors need more training
- Home Secretary Theresa May condemned 'sickening and cowardly crime'
PUBLISHED: 08:59, 21 February 2014 | UPDATED: 09:57, 21 February 2014
Ten stalkers have been sent to court every week since tough new laws were introduced to make it easier for victims to get justice.
The government created a specific criminal offence of stalking to take action against people who lives make their victims’ lives a misery.
New figures reveal that in a little over a year more than 560 cases have been sent to court, but campaigners warned too few police, prosecutors and judges had been trained to deal with difficult cases.
In the first 13 months of the new stalking laws being on the statute book, 566 cases went to court, new figures show
Plans to create a new criminal offence were first set out in 2011, because suspects were having to be prosecuted under other offences, frequently harassment or breach of the peace.
Almost 40 per cent of stalking incidents in 2009-10 involved a partner or former partner; a third involved a stranger.
Half of cases involved being sent unwanted letters, emails, text messages or cards that were either obscene or threatening.
The Protection of Freedoms Act created two new offences of stalking which came into force in November 2012 and by the end of last year had seen 566 cases go to court.
It included 422 charged with stalking without fear/alarm/distress, 41 accused of stalking involving fear of violence and 103 suspected of stalking involving serious alarm/distress.
It means on average 10 cases have gone to court every week since the new laws were passed.
Home Secretary Theresa May condemned stalking as a 'sickening and cowardly crime'
Home Secretary Theresa May changed the law after research suggested 120,000 offences were committed every year. She said stalking is a ‘sickening and cowardly’ crime.
Those who harass others by following or spying on them can be jailed for up to six months.
And those who cause their target to fear violence or make them change the way they live can be imprisoned for up to five years.
Professor Carsten Maple, Trustee Protection Against Stalking and co-director of the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, said: ‘Clearly we are delighted that there appears to be significant increase in the number of cases of stalking being taken through the justice system.
‘The fact that there are 10 stalkers taken to court every week shows that victims are coming forward and being taken seriously.
‘We have worked hard with others to bring in these new laws and are glad to see they are being used.
‘We do hope however that these charges are at the appropriate level and the full power of the legislation is being used rather than perpetrators facing lesser charges.’
Criminal justice expert Harry Fletcher, a former assistant general secretary of the probation officers union Napo, said: ‘It is an encouraging start that the law is being used but it is a small proportion of all reported incidents and shows that there is still a very urgent need for training for the police, crown prosecutors and the judiciary.
‘Nevertheless it is a start and one that we can build on.’
When the new offences became law, Mrs May highlighted the case of Rana Faruqui, a 35-year-old business analyst and prominent horsewoman who was stalked by a former boyfriend.
Stephen Griffiths followed and spied on her, and cut the brake pipes of her car.
Thames Valley police took no action, until Miss Faruqui was stabbed to death in a field in 2003. Griffiths was later sentenced to life for murder, and Miss Faruqui’s mother Carol became a campaigner for tougher laws on stalking.
When the new stalking offences became law, the government highlighted the case of Rana Faruqui (right) who was stalked by former boyfriend Stephen Griffiths but police took no action until she was stabbed to death in a field in 2003
Releasing the figures on cases sent to court, Solicitor general Oliver Heald said: ‘The records held by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS identify the number of offences in which a prosecution commenced and reached a first hearing in magistrates courts, rather than the number of defendants prosecuted or the outcome of proceedings.
‘A single defendant may be prosecuted for multiple offences.’
Last year Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, the Association of Chief Police Officers' national policing lead on stalking and harassment, admitted officers had not ‘made as much progress as we'd like to’ on dealing with the issue.