Stronger protections for stalking victims announced

In Stalking Awareness Week, the Government has announced plans to make it easier for police to apply for stalking protection orders (SPOs), meaning more victims can be protected earlier.

But while welcoming the move, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has revealed that police forces are under-utilising SPOs and there remain vast gaps in national data about victims on their journey through the criminal justice system that are preventing reform.

Only 1.7% of stalking cases in the year ending March 2023 resulted in a conviction. To better understand why, the Trust sent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all 43 police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service, and the response showed that despite Police and Crime Commissioners’ commitment to increase reports of stalking two thirds actually saw a decrease. Twelve of the 27 forces who responded applied for 10 or less SPOs in the entire year.

Data suggests that there are still systemic issues across agencies when dealing with stalking cases. There was an inability to show the extent to which stalking is changed to another charge or no further action is taken on a case, as well as a complete lack of data showing how many SPOs are not authorised by the police and for what reason, or how many SPOs are refused at court.

This despite the fact that Stalking Protection Orders can be a vital safeguarding tool for victims of stalking by putting in place prohibitions, as well as positive requirements on perpetrators, such as attending a mental health assessment or surrendering devices for evidence collection. From October, police officers will no longer need to meet the high criminal standard of proof threshold in order to apply for an SPO. Instead evidence which meets the lower civil standard will likely be accepted by courts.

But The Suzy Lamplugh Trust says that in order for this to have an impact, action is needed across several areas: “The current system is failing victims at every step of the process. These findings highlight the urgent need for transparency across criminal justice data systems to show why victims are falling through the gaps and convictions not being achieved, as well as improved understanding and awareness of stalking behaviours among criminal justice professionals. Agencies across the criminal justice system must join forces against stalking to ensure victims receive the support and outcome they deserve.”