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Stalking laws 'must see use' to halt deaths

Justice system lags behind stalking laws

Stalking laws introduced last year will lead to more murders unless the criminal justice system starts using them properly, experts and campaigners warned yesterday.

After a long-fought campaign stalking was finally made a crime one year ago.

But now staff at advisory and training service Paladin, which helped campaign for the legislation, claim the judicial system has still not "caught up" with the law.

The group says this is partly because prosecutors still charge suspects with harassment rather than the new offences, leading to only minimal sentences being handed down.

"Stalking has already led to murder," said Paladin co-director Harry Fletcher.

"Unless training is made mandatory and rolled out as a matter of urgency, there are certain to be more preventable homicides.

"Across the criminal justice system, police, probation, judges and magistrates have not caught up with the new law."

Under the 2013 law, two specific new offences were introduced. The first is dealt with by magistrates only and applies where a person is accused of targeting someone in a course of conduct that amounts to stalking. It involves a maximum jail term of six months.

A second more serious offence, where someone is accused of causing a person fear of violence or serious alarm or distress, attracts a jail term of up to five years.

Within six months of the law's passage 320 people had been arrested for the crimes in England and Wales of whom 189 were charged.

Paladin claims that since the offences were introduced, the experience for stalking victims has been "disappointing and unsatisfactory."

They say that often-breached restraining orders are inadequate and that police officers behave "inappropriately" by asking victims if they want the suspect arrested or warned.

Paladin co-director Laura Richards added: "Stalkers steal and take lives. It is about fixation and obsession. I have profiled many cases that end in murder. This is about homicide prevention. One year on and we have a new law and an excellent advocacy service for victims but little else has changed."

Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said he would raise the issue with the Director of Public Prosecutions.


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