Saskia Garner, Policy Officer at The Suzy Lamplugh Trust - the UK's leading personal safety charity and manages the National Stalking Helpline.
Stalking incidents are rising sharply in the North East but legal powers to protect victims
have been used just 10 times, according to a new investigation.
Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) are a new civil power available to police which impose restrictions on suspected stalkers. Introduced in January 2020, they are designed to make it easier to curb the behaviour of stalkers, with a lower burden of proof required than for a criminal conviction.
Statistics from the BBC's data unit investigation show SPOs have only been used 10 times across the North East.
In 2016, Alice Ruggles was just 24 when she was murdered by her stalker in Gateshead. When these powers were brought in last year, Clive Ruggles told ITV he believed a Specialist Protection Order could have saved their daughter.
Of those six SPOs applied for, five have been granted and one has been rejected by Northumbria Police since January 2020.
20,1439,2545 - The number of annual recorded stalking incidents by police from the year ending March 2015 to the year ending March 2020, and the number of stalking incidents recorded by police between April 2020 and December 2020.
Detective Chief Superintendent Deborah Alderson, of Northumbria Police's Safeguarding Department, says the absence of an SPO does not mean that a victim is not receiving support or is at any higher risk of violence:
“We recognise the devastating affect stalking can have on people’s lives, this is an abhorrent crime. We want to make clear that we are absolutely committed to ensuring all victims receive the appropriate support and that safeguarding measures are put in place and that offenders are brought to justice wherever that is possible.
“We have seen an increase of this type of offending, particularly cyber stalking offences, since lockdown measures were introduced. However, it is important to recognise that these figures relate to recorded crime and not the number of incidents being reported, this is significant as one of the main reasons for the increase in figures is a change in Home Office Crime recording guidance that has seen more of those calls to police about stalking being recorded as a crime. This also offers some explanation as to why the number of charges would not increase at the same rate as the number of recorded crimes.
“All officers receive extensive training around stalking and harassment because protecting vulnerable people is our number one priority. We would encourage anyone who is a victim of these offences to not suffer in silence and contact us immediately so we can get you the support you need and deal with offenders.”
Three SPOs were applied for, two were granted and the remaining was not heard by Durham Constabulary since January 2020.
6,818,1747 - The number of annual recorded stalking incidents by police from the year ending March 2015 to the year ending March 2020, and the number of stalking incidents recorded by police between April 2020 and December 2020.
Superintendent Richie Allen, from Durham Constabulary, says SPOs are just one of the tools in the forces toolkit for tackling stalking:
“Stalking is extremely distressing for those involved and we take it very seriously.
“We employ a wide range of tactics to tackle this type of behaviour, and Stalking Protection Orders are just one of the tools in our toolkits.
“We provide education and training for frontline staff to help them identify incidents of stalking, provide early intervention to safeguard those in need and bring offenders to justice.
“Lockdown has seen many stalkers change their behaviour, which has resulted in an increase in cyberstalking.
“If you are being stalked or harassed it is important that you report it so that we can help to protect you. Please call us on 101, or dial 999 if you are in immediate danger.”
The one SPO applied for in the Cleveland Police area since January 2020 was granted.
16,131,870 - The number of annual recorded stalking incidents by police from the year ending March 2015 to the year ending March 2020, and the number of stalking incidents recorded by police between April 2020 and December 2020.
In response to these statistics, Cleveland Police says the pandemic has had an effect on the number of SPOs being pursued but cases are being processed:
"In April 2020 the Home Office notified all UK forces that any such “course of conduct” between ex partners should be recorded as stalking and not as harassment.
"By May 2020 we were already delivering in-house face to face training to all frontline officers and specialist teams on these new recording standards.
"This decisive action, and adhering strictly to these national crime recording standards, led to the expected large rise in stalking - for Cleveland Police and no doubt for others nationally.
"Stalking is taken very seriously with our officers trained on a rolling in-house programme to identify the signs and components of stalking.
"This is supplemented by a mandatory e-learning package for all officers from PCSO to Chief Inspector level and further in-person training sessions are in the planning stage by our Domestic Abuse Unit officers.
"In terms of the charge rate, we continue to work tirelessly to support victims through the criminal justice process and will always seek to achieve justice, as well as in those cases which are evidence led.
"We remain committed to raising awareness of stalking, protecting victims and seeking justice for them and we work closely with national charity Paladin."
North Yorkshire Police did not respond to the Freedom of Information request.