Stalkers may be tagged to alert victims to proximity, police say

Proposal revealed at launch of London anti-stalking unit which will use mental health workers to help reduce crime

Stalkers could be electronically tagged so their victims can be alerted if they are nearby, police have said.

The initiative was proposed at the launch of a groundbreaking Stalking Threat Assessment Centre by the Metropolitan police, which will seek to incorporate mental health professionals to help deal with offenders.

DI Lee Bernard, the head of the new centre, said victims could use an app to alert them if their stalker was approaching, giving them time to call the police.

“We want to stop these people coming together,” Barnard said.

The Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, acknowledged that police had previously failed victims. “I am not here to defend where we have failed in the past. Maybe we have not given it as much focus as we could. We are striving to get better,” she said.

Official reports have found police and the criminal justice system to be failing victims of stalking, with recent high-profile cases highlighting the seriousness of the offence.

Joshua Stimpson, 26, killed Molly McLaren, 23, in a car park in Chatham, Kent, last year, two weeks after she ended their relationship. Stimpson had twice been warned by police to stay away from McLaren before he stabbed her in her car in June 2017.

The police plan to bring mental health professionals in to assess cases and advise officers on how to deal with suspects and protect victims. A study of 104 cases in London concluded that 59 suspects definitely or probably had mental health issues contributing to their stalking.

The centre would also work with the probation service.

Dick said not all offenders were best dealt with by prosecution: “On occasion, prison is not the solution, is not the thing that, of itself, is going to change the stalker’s behaviour.”

Barnard said the Met had almost 1,200 stalking cases a year across London, and he believed that number could double once victims developed confidence that police were adequately dealing with stalkers.

It is estimated just 1% of stalking victims seek help. “Some reports suggest that stalking is as widespread as domestic abuse, so if that is the scale of it, we are talking about potentially thousands that are unrecorded,” he said.

Stalking victims have described the ordeal as being “like murder in slow motion”.

Barnard said it was a crime of persistence and, regardless of whether violence was used, it could have a devastating impact on a victim’s life.

“For some stalkers the best course of action is prison; but others will simply carry on with their behaviour when they are released, so we need different options to help them stop for good.”

A joint inspection last year by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found none of the 112 cases they examined were dealt with properly. Care for the victim was judged inadequate in 95% of those cases and three-quarters of them were not investigated by detectives.

Dick said: “We are under no illusions that police have not always given the right support to victims, and many victims have felt let down by the criminal justice system.”

She said the taskforce, overseen by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, aimed to get different agencies looking at the same cases. It would also draw on expertise from the fixated threat assessment centre, which deals with cases in which the victims are public figures.

Earlier this year, the BBC presenter Emily Maitlis described in court how the man who stalked her, Edward Vines, continued harassing her even while he was in jail for breaching a restraining order against her. Vines had been stalking Maitlis for 20 years when he was jailed for 45 months for breaching the restraining order again.

Dr Frank Farnham, the clinical lead at the National Stalking Clinic, based at the Barnet, Enfield and Haringey mental health NHS trust, said: “Over the last 12 years we have developed significant expertise in assessing and managing those who stalk public figures. We now have the opportunity to apply this knowledge in managing all stalking cases, thereby reducing the risk posed to victims.”

Alice Ruggles, 24, was murdered in Gateshead in 2016 by her ex-boyfriend L/Cpl Trimaan “Harry” Dhillon, 26, after police issued him with a warning to stop contacting her. It emerged after her death that a previous partner of Dhillon had also been stalked, and it only stopped when she took out a restraining order.

Ruggles’ father, Clive, said warning signs were missed and he believed his daughter’s fears were dismissed due to her polite and respectful demeanour.

Official figures show that one in five women and one in 10 men will be stalked in their lifetime.

The assessment centre will initially run for two years. Police forces in Cheshire and Hampshire will also receive funds, but the scope of their work will be narrower.


Vikram Dodd Police and crime correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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