Powers to protect stalking victims not being used in Cheshire

Powers to protect victims from stalkers are not being used in Cheshire, despite a huge increase in stalking crimes during the pandemic.

Cheshire Police recorded 1,650 incidents of stalking in the nine months from April to December 2020.

This is a 113 per cent increase from the 775 incidents reported in the 12 months to March 2020.

Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) were introduced in January 2020 and are designed to provide the police with new powers to impose restrictions on stalkers.

Examples of restrictions SPOs could impose on stalkers include banning them from: entering certain locations, using a device that can access the internet (unless the internet history can be stored) and physically approaching or contacting the victim.

SPOs usually remain in place for two years.

Cheshire Police have only applied for 18 orders since January 2020.

A total of 13 SPOs were granted, four have not been heard and one was rejected by the courts.

The figures also show just six per cent of reported stalking offences led to someone being charged in the nine months to December 2020.

In response to the figures, a spokesperson for Cheshire Police said: “Cheshire Police, along with police forces nationally, remains absolutely committed to safeguarding victims of stalking and harassment, these offences have a significant life changing impact on victims and, without appropriate early intervention, the risk of harm can quickly escalate.

“The National Police Chiefs Council continues to work with key partner agencies to improve the response to stalking and harassment.

“Over the last three years, this has included the introduction of refreshed training and guidance to all frontline officers and staff, and the establishment of a network of specialists in each police force in England and Wales who are responsible for improving standards locally.

“In addition, the police service in conjunction with the CPS has introduced a revised protocol to guide investigative decision making, as well as working with the Home Office to roll out Stalking Protection Orders that can be used as an additional tool to protect victims.

“We are fully committed to doing all that we can to bring offenders to justice and safeguard victims and we will continue to raise awareness of the changing landscape of stalking, how to report concerns and which organisations can provide guidance, advice and support.

“Cheshire Constabulary’s Harm Reduction Unit (HRU) is a multi-agency risk management service between Cheshire Constabulary, The National Probation Service, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership and Merseycare NHS Foundation Trusts.

“It involves police, criminal justice, independent victims’ advocates and health professionals working together as a single service to manage risk in cases of stalking and serial domestic abuse.

“We would always urge anyone who believes they may be subject of stalking to come forward at the earliest opportunity and report their concerns to police so we can work with them to protect them.”

Police forces across England and Wales recorded 59,950 incidents of stalking in the nine months from April to December 2020.

This is almost double the 30,818 incidents that occurred in the year ending March 2020.

More than half of all police forces have seen stalking incidents double over the same time period.

This information comes from responses from 41 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales to a Freedom of Information request from the BBC’s Shared Data Unit.

Clive Ruggles, whose daughter, Alice Ruggles, was murdered by her stalker in 2017, said he thinks of Alice when thinking about how he felt about some police forces not applying for a single SPO.

He said: “If another Alice came to the police today, would the outcome be different? SPOs could have helped Alice – we’re absolutely convinced of that. But now it just seems like a postcode lottery. We haven’t learned. That is personally distressing for us. We have to make this better.”

Police forces in England and Wales applied for 427 orders since January 2020.

Only 22 applications were rejected by courts, a rejection rate of just over five per cent (5.1 per cent).

Of the 427 applications, more than half (214) were made by just four police forces in the south east of England: The Met, Sussex, Kent and Surrey.

While stalking incidents have risen, the national charge rate for stalking offences has fallen from 23 per cent in the year ending March 2016 to just six per cent for the nine months ending in December 2020.

These increases in stalking incidents come despite England and Wales being in a lockdown, for a large part of the nine months from April to December 2020.

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The Home Office said it is set to meet with police forces to look at ways to improve the use of SPOs.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Stalking Protection Orders stop perpetrators in their tracks and prevent them contacting victims. We expect police forces to make full use of them.

“The Home Office and College of Policing have worked closely with forces to produce guidance on issuing them.

“Next week, Home Office officials will meet with the police and other stakeholders who work to tackle stalking to set out our findings on how effectively police forces have been using SPOs and discuss how to improve this.”

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