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2nd Anniversary of Stalking laws: CALL FOR ACTION ON STALKING PROSECUTIONS

Read full briefing paper

In a briefing published today ( 21st November) by Plaid Cymru and Digital-Trust, latest figures from parliamentary answers show that over a 1,000 individuals have been prosecuted under the new stalking laws brought into force on 25th November 2012.  The introduction of these laws followed in the wake of a high-profile campaign and independent parliamentary inquiry chaired by Plaid’s Westminster leader, Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd MP, and advised by Harry Fletcher, now Director of the Digital-Trust and Laura Richards, a criminal psychologist.

Parliamentary answers show that there are significant and worrying variations between Police areas for prosecutions for stalking. Under section 2a, Magistrates courts for example there were 50 in Greater Manchester but only 10 in Merseyside, and in South Yorkshire there were 12 but in West Yorkshire there were 28. This may well be a reflection of Training and Force priorities. 

The figures also reveal that there has been a 39% increase in the number of restraining orders which were breached, followed by a finding of guilt over the last two years.

According to the Solicitor General, there has been a 20% increase in the number of persons charged with stalking in the last two years, and during that period, over 750 cases were brought to justice which would not have been charged under the old laws.

Figures have also shown that only 40% of eligible police staff have undergone training in the new stalking laws. Parliamentary answers have also shown that the number of police officers completing the training varies hugely between different police areas. By January 2014, Derby had 2,103 staff complete the training, compared with just 186 in Avon and Somerset.  The figures also show that the completion rate in West Yorkshire was 6,026, compared with 29 in neighbouring South Yorkshire.  The numbers completing the training in Northamptonshire was 1,501, compared with 87 in Thames Valley. 

Figures for the Crown Prosecution Service show that roughly half of all prosecutors have been trained in implementing the new laws.  It is, however, of concern that parliamentary answers from October 2014 show that the numbers of trained staff is decreasing because of a reduction in employee head count.

Commenting, Elfyn Llwyd said “The number of prosecutions is encouraging but evidently compare adversely with the numbers brought to justice in Scotland.  Scotland appear per capita to be prosecuting three times as many people as in England and Wales.  There is an urgent need for research to examine why the outcomes so different across the UK.

Harry Fletcher, Director of Digital-Trust, said “There has been an improvement in the number of criminal justice professionals trained, but it is of some concern that police officers are required to undertake e-learning in their own time.  We believe that this practice needs to be revised and provided in-house.”

The briefing paper recommends:

-        That training for all criminal justice professionals be escalated and that staff be allowed to complete this training during work hours;

-        That a thorough investigation should be conducted by the UK government to examine why the number of prosecutions brought in Scotland is higher per capita than in England and Wales;

-        That the Ministry of Justice should provide treatment in custody and the community for perpetrators;

-        That the Ministry of Justice should publish details of outcomes of stalking prosecutions;

-        That the CPS should publish information relating to charging decisions in respect of 2A and 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act (1997).

Read full briefing paper

STALKING PROTOCOLS WELCOME BUT SCOTTISH APPROACH WOULD HELP MORE VICTIMS.

The Digital-Trust welcomes the new protocols announced by the CPS and ACPO in effort to improve victim’s confidence and conviction rates.

  • It is important that victim’s statements are used in stalking cases because it involves psychological terrorism which can be difficult to understand without the victim’s voice.
  • Having a better understanding why victims are reluctant to go to court will allow the criminal justice system to address low victim confidence.
  • Consulting on bail conditions is important but there is a need to make sure that they are also enforced

Harry Fletcher of Director of the Digital-Trust and a leading stalking campaigner, “It is important that the police and CPS listen to victims however, we can still learn how to improve on the low prosecution rates by looking towards Scotland”.

The data on prosecutions shows that Scotland is prosecuting significantly more perpetrators per capita than England and Wales. On November 25th 2012 the new Stalking Laws came into force for England and Wales, following the enactment of similar legislation in Scotland in December of 2010.

If you compare the national figures shows that although prosecutions for Stalking and Harassment increased after the legislation across the whole of the UK, Scotland has outperformed England and Wales.

During the first 16 months in Scotland, 362 prosecutions commenced. The total number of cases brought to court in England and Wales combined during a similar period, by contrast, was 834. 

Scotland brought 300% more prosecutions per capita in their first year than England and Wales. If Scotland continues with their 30% increase in prosecution each year there could be a significant differential in prosecutions north and south of the border – possibly as much as fivefold. 

The key to increasing prosecution and conviction rates relies on training to change attitudes towards stalking, improve investigation and prosecutions. Scotland has also appointed a lead prosecutor and employed specific victims’ advocates who have had a huge impact on victims’ confidence and the number of cases reaching court.

In 2012, the National Police Improvement Agency (which has now been merged into the College of Policing) produced a twenty-minute e-training package for all police officers on the new stalking offences. As of May 2014, there have been 52,176 police officers who have viewed the new material. This represents 38% of the total number of relevant police. 

Harry Fletcher said, “Whilst this is obviously an improvement, progress is still needed in order to get the new law properly understood. The appointment of a lead prosecutor and specific victim advocates are also vital for England and Wales”.

As of the 11th June 2014, The Crown Prosecution service has trained 1,447 or 50% of their lawyers on a new ‘Stalking and Harassment’ course, which deals specifically with stalking and harassment offences – with the emphasis on building a strong case.

A second paper published today highlights a key challenge in bringing stalking prosecutions. More abuse is now being conducted using new technology. The Digital-Trust has highlighted the growth of, and threat posed by, the increasing abuse carried out using digital technology including mobiles, social media and surveillance technology.

The Digital-Trust has undertaken a survey of a 173 victims. The results showed that abusers used more digital means to perpetrate harassment than offline means. The 2013 statistics from the National Stalking Helpline also shows the highest percentage of abusive behaviour was via digital than offline.

The use of spyware on both computers and mobiles is now widespread in stalking cases. Spyware is inexpensive and easy to obtain. One software download site alone had sold over 4.5 million copies of spyware.

Jennifer Perry, CEO Digital-Trust said, “The increasing volume and the technical nature are proving to be a challenge for criminal justice agencies and traditional support charities, who are struggling to cope. There needs to be more specialist training and resources to help victims increase their security and reduce the harm from digital abuse”.

Latest Stalking Statistics

The latest stalking statistics based on Parliamentary answers were published on July7th. They show that between 25th November 2012 until the end of May 2014, a total of 834 cases had reached a court. the Majority some 601 were charged with Stalking under section 2a of the Protection From Harassment Act, the rest were charged for the more serious  act involving fear of violence, alarm or distress.
 
Stalking laws in Scotland came into force in December 2010. During the first 16 months of that legislation.362 prosecutions commenced. By September 2013 the number had reached 1,046. There is roughly a 30% increase year on tear of the number of prosecutions in Scotland. So there is therefore a sharp differential in prosecutions north and south of the border maybe as much as 4 fold. The most recent population figures show that there were 5.3 million residents in Scotland compared with 54.6 million in England and Wales.
 
Possible reasons for the Scottish situation maybe that the Crown Office has appointed a lead Prosecuter for all cases involving Stalking. In addition victims of stalking are referred to a dedicated Victim Information and Advice service run by the Crown Office. This no doubt increases victims' confidence in the justice system.

 

Training
The number of Police staff who have seen the e-training package on stalking has risen from 27% in June 2013 to 38% by end of May 2014.Up from 38,434 to 52,176 in the 12 month period. Whilst this is positive some forces are lagging behind. Full details have been passed to the All Party Political Group(APPG)  on Stalking chaired by Elfyn Llywd MP. Across at the CPS  where a 2 online courses now exist, 50% of employed lawyers have completed the material. Information is still scarce on the nature of training given to Probation staff.

The APPG will be carrying out an investigation into the extent and consequences of Cyber Stalking during 2014 and also be looking closely at developments in Scotland.

Stalking Awareness Day 2014

The 24th April saw the 4th annual National Stalking awareness Day held at the head office of City of London Police. The event was supported by over 100 people and was sponsored by Simpson Millar, solicitors and the SLT.

Harry Fletcher spoke at the meeting on behalf of Napo the probation and Family Court Trade Union. The topic was the role of Unions in protecting victims in the workplace. He used 4 case studies to illustrate the problems faced by victims where both Union and managers struggle to understand the issues.

The first involved a female Police Officer who was being threatened by an offender she was investigating. His earlier crimes were against women. The threats culminated in a desire to kill her. Managers at times saw her as the problem and referred her to occupational health. The case is still unresolved.

The second case study described 2 female employees being stalked and harassed by the same male member of staff. Some managers colluded with the abusers and did not support the victims.

In the third instance a male Police Officer received scores of email and texts of a suggestive nature from an unknown female. His force did not realise the serious nature of the behavior.

The forth saw a female probation officer being stalked and threatened by a male offender over many months. This involved visits, phone calls and in the end a threat to rape and kill. Managers did not call the Police but instead pushed the matter up the management chain.

A number of suggestions were made for better practice :

  • In each case a victim risk assessment would have helped *Training for all staff into the nature of Stalking and harassment
  • Refer to the Police if a crime may have been committed *Support for victims in the workplace
  • Avoidance of victim blaming
  • A recognition that some jobs may be most likely to attract obsessive behaviour The latest statistics on training and detections will be the subject of a briefing for the All Party Group on Stalking chaired by Elfyn Llwyd MP who also spoke at the event.

Progess on Stalking Training within the Criminal Justice System

Information on the degree to which Criminal Justice staff have been given training on the new Stalking laws is emerging.

The MOJ claim that seminars have been included in the curriculum of the Probation Qualification Framework since late 2012. New staff however believe the input was somewhat modest. The MOJ add that actual training details are held by the soon to be abolished Probation Trusts and that the completion rates for existing staff are not collected at the centre.

The College of Policing reports that by the end of February 2014,the training package on Stalking had been completed 48,897 times. The Home Office does not hold information which splits this figure for each Police area.

Turning to the Crown Prosecution Service( CPS), The Attorney General reports that its legal guidance on Stalking was updated in 2012. In addition the CPS has developed an online learning course called Cyber Crime : Cyber Stalking accessible it says to all prosecutors. By March 2014, 1,346 lawyers had completed the whole course.

Of these completions 207 were from London, 118 from Thames and Chiltern, 48 from Wales and 112 from Yorkshire and Humberside. This is a start but only a start. If victims are to be the centre of the Justice System as all Political Parties claim then much more must be done.

10 Key Questions

Elfyn Llwyd MP this week asked Home Secretary Theresa May 10 key Questions about the first 15 months since the introduction of Stalking laws in England and Wales. They were:

  1. How many persons have been charged and prosecuted under 2a and 4a?
  2. How many persons have been found guilty under 2a and 4a and what was the outcome?
  3. How many complaints of Stalking did the Police receive?
  4. How many persons have been charged by each Police Service?
  5. Are there any plans to extend the law to Northern Ireland.
  6. How many as a % Police have been trained?
  7. How many CPS staff as a % have been trained?
  8. Are there any plans to develop treatment programmes for offenders?
  9. What treatment is currently available in jails and in the community for offenders?
  10. How many probation staff as a % have been trained?

National Stalking Awareness Day falls on April 24th this year both Harry Fletcher and Elfyn Llwyd will contribute. Harry will speak on the role of Trade Unions in supporting members in the workplace and Elfyn on the Parliamentary campaign and MPs and their staff as victims of stalking

Stalking latest News

New Court Figures The latest figures collected by the CPS show that 566 stalking cases had reached a first hearing at a Magistrates Court during the First 13 months since the new laws were implemented.

The statistics were published by the Solicitor General Oliver Heald. They show that 144 defendants were charged with the more serious section 4a offence which can on conviction carry up to 5 years in prison and the rest 422 charged with section 2a which is heard in the lower court and has a maximum of 6 months. At the moment figures on outcomes at Court have not been published. Provisional data should be available in 3 months.

The new Laws came into effect on November 25th 2012.They followed a highly successful Parliamentary campaign which was spearheaded by Harry Fletcher, Elfyn Llywd MP and Laura Richards then from the charity Protection Against Stalking. The Campaign latest just over a year and is regarded as unique in terms of organisation by many in the Home Office and the sector.

In a press statement Harry Fletcher said 'The figures are an encouraging start but they are a small proportion of all reported incidents and show that there is still an urgent need for training for the police, CPS and the Judiciary. Nevertheless it is a start and one that we can build on'.

All Party Parliamentary Group on Stalking and Harassment

During the summer of 2013 an All Party Group on Stalking was formed. Harry Fletcher convinced 35 parliamentarians to join with the aim of improving the experience that victims of stalking have of the Criminal Justice and Family Courts systems. In addition the group will scrutinise legislation and table amendments to new bills where necessary.

In October 2013 the members elected Elfyn Llywd as chair and the following as vice chairs: Robert Buckland (Con), Gordon Henderson (Con), Cheryl Gillan (Con), Baroness Howe ( Cross Bencher), Baroness Brinton (LibDem), Jenny Chapman (Lab), Sandra Osborne (Lab), Barry Sheerman (Lab) and Baroness Linklater(LibDem).

The group will meet every 3 months and will be examining the extent of cyber stalking, the way in which the courts treat victims, treatment for offenders and assistance for members of Parliament who are themselves victims of stalking. Harry Fletcher will be working closely with Elfyn to maximise the groups impact.