New powers designed to assist police with tackling stalking came into effect on 20 January 2020. Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) enable authorities to intervene early in cases where there is concern that a suspect “poses a risk of stalking to a person”, but a full investigation may yet to be completed.
Police can now apply for an SPO from a magistrate in order to impose prohibitions or requirements onto a suspect, such as to avoid certain areas, cease contact with a person, or seek out mental health or psychiatric support. It is not necessary for the person subjected to an SPO to have been convicted in the past for stalking, however breach of an SPO is a criminal offence. Violating a stalking order can result in up to 12 months imprisonment in a magistrate’s court or up to five years imprisonment if convicted by a jury.
'Filling a Gap' To Protect Victims of Stalking
The stated purpose of the SPO is to ‘fill in the gap’ in situations where police were previously unlikely or unable to intervene. This includes situations where the alleged stalker is a stranger, acquaintance, friend, colleague, neighbour or someone they met online. Powers already existed to address stalking from an ex-partner.
In the words of the Scottish Law Commission the advantage of SPO’s is that they give victims “protection where the police consider an alleged offender to be a genuine threat, but where there is not yet enough evidence to pursue criminal charges”.
Laws Follow Years of High Profile Murders by Stalkers
The Stalking Protection Act 2019 follows The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which created two two offences of stalking, which itself was proceeded by numerous high profile stalker related murders.
In 2005 Clare Bernal, a 22 year-old beauty consultant, was shot dead by her ex-boyfriend and stalker in the Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge. Tania Moore, a 15 year old girl from South London, was killed by her former boyfriend turned stalker, after he stabbed her more than 30 times, also in 2005.
In 2016 Sky News Journalist Alice Ruggles had her throat slit by Lance Corporal Trimaan Dhillon, after he broke into her home. Ruggles had contacted the police about Dhillon stalking her only days before she was killed and an inquiry later determined that both the Army and Police missed opportunities to intervene.
Recorded Stalking Offences on The Rise
The number of recorded offences of stalking and harassment in England and Wales for the year ending March 2019 is 444,054, according to the Offie for National Statistics. This is a 50% increase (148,106 more offences) from the year before, though improvements in how police record incidents are likely “ an important factor in this rise”, according to the Office of National Statistics.
Victims right groups which specialise in stalking such as Paladin Service and have warned against SPOs being used as an alternative to prosecutions by resource strapped policing authorities. “The only way to keep a stalking victim safe in my view is to ensure that the perpetrator is in custody”, Rachel Horman, Chair of Paladin Services told The Guardian. “Stalking is about obsession and fixation so nothing less than custody will keep victims safe”, she added.