Anti-stalking campaigners have launched a super-complaint against the police, claiming officers are failing to identify offenders, properly investigate crimes or protect victims.
A group of 21 expert individuals and organisations called the National Stalking Consortium said there are systemic issues in how stalking is dealt with, with only 5% of cases in England and Wales ending with a charge.
Suky Bhaker, chief executive of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust which set up the consortium, said a significant number of stalking victims are being let down by the police.
The super-complaint, a measure used to highlight wider problems or trends in policing, is being brought 10 years on from a change to the law that made stalking a specific offence.
Ms Bhaker said: “We support thousands of victims every year across our National Stalking Service and a significant number of them tell us that they are being let down by the police and the courts at every step of their journey to justice.
“Failure to identify and investigate stalking at the earliest possible opportunity results in an increasing risk of physical and psychological harm to the victim.
“We hope that the outcome of this super-complaint will result in robust recommendations to improve the police response to stalking across the country which is so vitally needed.”
The campaigners claim police are failing to identify patterns of behaviour and often treat incidents as lower level crimes such as malicious communications or criminal damage.
They said they are “highly concerned” that reports of stalking are not properly investigated due to officers incorrectly believing there is not enough evidence, and that stalking protection orders are not used often enough.
Claire Waxman, Victims’ Commissioner for London and herself a victim of stalking, said: “Too many stalking victims are being let down by the police and wider justice system – with stalking behaviours being ignored or minimised, and breaches of restraining orders not taken seriously enough.
“I fully support the National Stalking Consortium’s super-complaint, which highlights a number of failures in the way stalking cases are being dealt with, leaving victims at risk of further harm and causing unnecessary distress.
“While I hoped the revised stalking legislation would lead to better protections and justice for victims, 10 years on the charge rate remains unacceptably low.
“It is clear the justice system is still struggling to identify and tackle stalking robustly, leaving too many victims suffering and at risk. Change is well overdue as stalking victims deserve to be protected.”
Once the super-complaint is submitted, a watchdog will decide whether it is eligible for investigation.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for stalking and harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, said: “Harassment and stalking are serious crimes which can have a devastating effect on the lives of victims and their friends and family.
“Stalking is a crime which goes to the very heart of violence against women and girls, removing their feeling of safety.
“It is recognised there is more to do to improve the criminal justice system outcomes for victims of stalking and we are working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to understand the progression of cases before the point of charge and court.”
Police in England and Wales issued more than 400 stalking protection orders in 2020 and expect the number to increase.
The number of stalking crimes recorded by forces has also risen, which chiefs claim is due to improved awareness of offending behaviour.