'Disaster' warning as ITV News exposes police failing to use new stalking powers

Lucrezia Millarini - who has herself experienced online stalking - reports on the devastating impact the crime can have on victims' lives

By ITV News Multimedia Producer Yohannes LoweCharities have condemned some police forces in England and Wales for failing to provide the full protection afforded to stalking victims by the government.

In January 2020, the Home Office brought in Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) in an attempt to provide victims with rapid protection from potentially dangerous stalkers. 

The orders, which normally remain in place for two years, can prevent alleged perpetrators from contacting or approaching victims while their behaviour is investigated.

The SPOs attempt to break the cycle of abuse by also requiring some offenders to attend drugs and alcohol programmes or to receive mental health assessments. 

But data obtained by ITV News shows that, across 31 forces, only 356 SPO applications were made in the year and a half since their introduction.

This is equivalent to just 0.3% of the 103,348 stalking crimes recorded over that period.

It has left the families of stalking victims warning of a "disaster waiting to happen".

Dorset, Northamptonshire and West Mercia had only applied for one of the orders, while Humberside police failed to submit a single application in the time their force recorded 3,158 stalking crimes.

In response, the forces said they have increased the use of SPOs since last August and help victims through other measures.

However, the low numbers have drawn fierce criticism as they follow a surge in reports of stalking across the country and come amid concerns that many perpetrators are not being punished for their crimes.

According to the ONS, police recorded 655,322 stalking and harassment offences in 2020/21, up 21% from the 539,586 in 2019/20 - in part because of a change in the way stalking crimes are logged.

While some forces have applied for just a handful of SPOs to protect victims, others have performed much better, such as Sussex, which recorded the most SPO applications, with 63.

With a dedicated stalking unit, Sussex Police requires cases to be reviewed by a senior officer before they are closed, which has been crucial to the force's success in investigating the offence.

The Metropolitan Police was among the forces that could not provide data on SPO applications so were not included in the calculations.

Charities say the discrepancy in applications is partly explained by some forces not having the relevant stalking training and officers being unaware of exactly what behaviours constitute stalking.

It can also be difficult to gather enough evidence to apply to a magistrate for an SPO as there are often no witnesses or CCTV clearly identifying the offender.

Forces which applied for the most SPOs between January 20 2020 and August 31 2021

  • Sussex (63)

  • Surrey (59)

  • Kent (36)

  • Devon & Cornwall (32)

  • Cheshire (27)

"From the FOIs, we are only seeing pockets of good practice where there have been some high profile murders of young women and consequently substantive police training given to that police force," Alison Bird, Clinical Lead for Stalking at Solace Women’s Aid, told ITV News.

Among the murders which gained national attention were those of Shana Grice - who was 19 when her ex-boyfriend killed her in Brighton in 2016 - and Molly McLaren, a university student stabbed 75 times by her ex-boyfriend in Chatham, Kent, in 2017.

"As an anti-stalking expert, I am extremely saddened and disappointed by the lack of SPOs being issued by the majority of police forces," Ms Bird added.

"We shouldn’t need more victims to die to lead to an improvement in practice."

Shana Grice was killed by her ex-boyfriend despite her repeated stalking reports. Credit: Family handout/PA

Among other suggested improvements, she is urging forces to use more Independent Stalking Advocacy Case Workers, who make recommendations to police on SPOs and charging.

Campaigners also argue that in cases where SPOs have been granted, officers have often not responded to breaches quickly enough, potentially putting the victim further in danger.

"Breaches are a criminal offence and police need to be taking them seriously," Violet Alvarez, from the Policy and Campaigns Team at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, told ITV News. 

"The impact of this lack of response from officers can be devastating to victims, as it means they are left without protection."

In January, Leon McCaskre stabbed his ex-partner Yasmin Chkaifi, 43, to death on a street 150 yards from her home in Maida Vale, west London, while subject to a SPO.

He was hit by a passing car as he attacked his former wife and also died at the scene.

Following her death, tributes poured in for Ms Chkaifi, who had worked in a school and was studying for a masters degree.

The mother-of-two, who was a qualified childminder studying for a masters degree, told a friend in 2020 that McCaskre had put cameras in her flat and had stolen her mail and phone to get her personal information.

A warrant was put out for McCaskre's arrest three weeks before he murdered Ms Chkaifi, after having previously contacted her and breached a SPO.

Ms Chkaifi's teenage son Zayd told ITV News of how terrifying it was for him and his younger brother to know that their mum had been followed for years, but had not been protected by the police despite the danger.

"He’d always just be around following her every move, just everything on social media," he said.

"For me and my brother it was horrifying - especially I was 14, he was 12."

About a third of the SPOs - 50 out of 168 - the Met obtained between 20 January 2020 and 31 August 2021 were breached, FoI data shows.

'It was a disaster just waiting to happen,' Zayd said

"(McCaskre) breaching the order that’s a clear red flag, it was a disaster just waiting to happen. It’s not even about contacting her. They did nothing to him," Zayd added.

The police watchdog has opened an investigation, examining the contact Ms Chkaifi had with officers before her death. The Met said it cannot comment while the probe is ongoing.

Analysis of the 356 SPOs applied for by the 31 forces that responded to the FoI requests shows the vast majority were shielding women from men they already knew from domestic settings.

Experts have warned that SPOs can sometimes neglect victims of "stranger" stalkers - which include ex-employees, acquaintances and someone a person went to school with.

Abbey - not her real name- was stalked by a former colleague from 2019.

He followed her to bus stops and cafes on her way home, harassing her to go on a date despite her making it clear she was not interested.

Terrified of what he might do next, she felt forced to move houses after she said the police failed to protect her by not applying to magistrates for a SPO.

"I don’t know where he is and now it’s just a waiting game where either the police do something, or he hurts me and then my case is taken seriously," she said.

'I don’t know where he is and now it’s just a waiting game,' Abbey said as she described her terrifying experience of being stalked

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) said it is working with forces, alongside the Home Office and College of Policing, to maximise the use of SPOs across the country.

“We recognise that there is more to do to improve understanding and consistency of use across policing to ensure victims are protected at the earliest opportunity," Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, who is the NPCC lead for stalking and harassment, said.

A Home Office spokesperson added: “The government takes its response to stalking extremely seriously and, in addition to introducing Stalking Protection Orders, we have tripled our funding to the National Stalking Helpline and doubled the maximum sentence for stalking from five to ten years."

If you think you’re being stalked, or want advice around stalking, you can find help here: