Professor Clive Ruggles was a guest speaker at the first Devon and Cornwall Police Multi-Agency Stalking Conference, where he told of how he had campaigned for change since Alice’s death.
The 24-year-old was killed by Trimaan Dhillon, a soldier who had bombarded her with messages, hacked her social media accounts and delivered numerous unwanted gifts since their separation.
Distressing calls to emergency services were played to yesterday’s (Feb 22) conference, which was attended by around 130 police officers and staff from partner agencies.
In the calls Alice, who lived in Gateshead, repeatedly asked for Northumbria Police to help her keep Dhillon at bay, but the force did not identify his behaviour as the crime of stalking, instead classifying it as harassment.
When Dhillon broke the terms of a police notice he wasn’t arrested, and Northumbria Police was unable to establish that he had already been made the subject of a restraining order after a complaint from a previous partner.
For the past two years Prof Ruggles has been campaigning for police forces to become better at identifying stalking cases. He has been supported in his efforts by Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston, whose Private Members’ Bill which strengthens stalking victims’ rights is likely to pass its third reading in the House of Lords, and become law, this week (Thursday, Feb 28th).
Prof Ruggles said his family had felt guilt that they had tried to reassure Alice about her ex boyfriend’s behaviour and still feared he would reoffend, despite the fact he will remain behind bars for at least another 20 years.
“We think that stalking behaviour must be recognised as such and not recorded as harassment or a one-off crime,” he told the conference.
“Stalking victims should not be asked what they want done when they make a complaint. Many will not even realise that they are the victims of stalking, we need police to become the experts and take appropriate action.
“As soon as a restraining order is breached there should be an immediate arrest, and we need much better controls once perpetrators are released.”
Prof Ruggles is campaigning for a register of stalkers – similar to the sex offenders’ register – to be set up and for better sharing of information between police forces.
The conference was opened by Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez, whose former partner was given a suspended jail sentence for assault and stalking last year. Alexis Bowater, the former ITV presenter, also spoke about the effect of stalking on mental health and how she had set up a charity, the Network for Surviving Stalking, following her own experiences as a victim.
“I’d like to pay tribute to Clive for having the bravery to come to the Westcountry and put himself through the ordeal of talking about this case so that others can improve,” Alison said.
“We have the intent to do exactly that within the police force and among our partners, now the challenge is to turn that into action.”
The conference had been organised by Devon and Cornwall Police Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Cavin, who said listening to the voice of the victim was key to identifying stalking cases. DCI Cavin described how the Devon and Cornwall force is rolling out training to thousands of frontline staff and officers.
“Alice was telling the police everything they needed to know in her calls to them and in meetings she had with officers,” he said.
“The clues were there and the opportunities to intervene were missed, with tragic consequences. It’s vital that police forces learn to listen to the voice of the victim and that the correct steps are taken before such cases escalate.”
If you are being stalked or think you are being stalked call 101 and speak to the police. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s National Stalking Helpline is on 08088 020300. The Network For Surviving Stalking website www.scaredofsomeone.org has information and advice for victims. If you think you might be developing an obsessive and unhealthy fixation on someone or know someone who has, you need to stop now. You may find it helpful to contact Respect, who can provide help to those offenders who recognise that they have a problem. The number is 0808 802 4040.