PCC Alison Hernandez and Prof Clive Ruggles
This Friday (February 22) victims, police officers and experts in the causes of stalking and harassment will gather at the headquarters of Devon and Cornwall Police for the force’s first ever ‘Voice of the Victim’ conference. The aim of the event is to improve the way in which the police force handles crimes where someone is being harassed before the situation escalates and serious harm is done.
I’ve spoken of my own experiences of being a victim of stalking, and know just how terrifying it can be. Unfortunately evidence suggests that there are numerous victims out there who never even make a complaint to police, let alone secure a conviction as I was able to do with the help of the police.
When stalking was made a crime in 2012 a parliamentary inquiry estimated there were about 120,000 victims in England and Wales, but only 53,000 incidents were being recorded as crimes by police, and only one in 50 of these led to someone being jailed.
Police forces, ours included, appreciate that they have to do more to tackle this issue, which is more widespread than you may think.
Part of the issue is that victims themselves might not realise they have become the centre of someone’s obsessive behaviour, whether that be through face to face contact or via communications like social media. Once reported police forces have sometimes struggled to realise that several seemingly minor incidents can add up to an alarming overall picture, and stalking cases can escalate quickly.
I was slow to report my case to police and at that time it had reached a point where I had chosen to move out of my home. If you think you might be being stalked then changing your behaviour, even by choosing to use a supermarket you wouldn’t usually shop at because you want to avoid someone, is a sign that something is wrong and you should probably ask for help.
Fortunately there is evidence that more victims are feeling confident that their cases will be taken seriously by police and they are coming forward with complaints. In the last year for which we have statistics, the 12 months to September 2018, stalking and harassment offences rose by 55% in the Devon and Cornwall force area and 41% in England and Wales.
Sometimes rises in recorded crime are to be welcomed because they indicate victims are developing trust in the police, their complaints will be taken seriously and these are being recorded properly. There’s still work to be done in this area and the Detective Chief Inspector who is leading for the force, Stuart Cavin, believes listening to the ‘voice of the victim’ is the key to identifying stalking cases early.
At Friday’s event we will be hearing from Clive Ruggles, whose daughter Alice was tragically murdered by her stalker, a soldier called Trimaan Dhillon. Alice felt she had been palmed off by Northumbria Police when she complained about Dhillion’s behaviour and since her death improvements to call handling have been made.
Stalking clinics will be piloted in Cornwall with a view to them being rolled out across the force area. The clinics will combine Probation staff, Crown Prosecution Service experts and Police officers. Meeting once a month they will identify those offenders demonstrating high risk behaviour and manage and review these cases with the aim of reducing the chance of reoffending. The force is also asking stalking victims to become involved in reviewing call handling and asking for advice on how we can improve.
But the work can’t stop once convictions have been secured. My perpetrator didn’t get jail time but a suspended sentence back in September. I’m still on high alert looking over my shoulder. This does not leave you quickly, the psychological impact can be huge.
Our Victim Care Unit has a role to play in offering victims ongoing help, and advice and my office is working with partners such as Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, who are fitting arson-proof letter boxes to homes of vulnerable victims.
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.
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.