My Lords, stalking is a terrifying crime; a sinister form of abuse that leaves many victims in a state of total psychological distress. The relentless nature of this unwanted contact can often engulf people’s lives in fear. It is a crime that sees a stalker become fixated and obsessed with their victim, who often becomes a prisoner in their own home. Imagine being too scared to leave the house to buy a pint of milk or walk the dog. Now, with the rising threat of cyberstalking, that abuse often continues in the home every time you turn your computer or phone on. The internet and social media can give the stalker access and reach like never before, not only to their victim but to their friends and family. As we know, this crime may escalate to rape and murder and is much more common than many people might realise. The horrifying truth is that one in five women and nearly one in 10 men will be the victims of stalking behaviour in their adult lifetime.
I am therefore proud to promote this Private Member’s Bill which, if passed, will give police an additional tool to protect the victims of this crime and deter perpetrators at the earliest opportunity. I also hope that it will serve as a moment to raise much-needed awareness within the police and justice system on how to properly respond to stalking. I pay tribute to the honourable Member for Totnes, Sarah Wollaston, whose grit and determination have taken this Bill through the House of Commons. I also thank and honour the many brave individuals who, as part of this process, have spoken out about their own harrowing experiences. They and campaigning organisations such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Paladin have done a huge amount to help shape this legislation so that it contains what is needed to protect victims from this insidious crime.
I particularly acknowledge those families who have been bereaved as a result of stalking. It is estimated that 94% of femicide cases are preceded by some level of stalking in the year leading up to the murder. I was especially struck when talking to the parents of Alice Ruggles, who was brutally murdered after being stalked by her ex-boyfriend. They strongly believe that had a co-coordinated approach to stalking existed, including the use of stalking protection orders backed up by immediate action to arrest the perpetrator if breached, their daughter might still be alive today. Alice and others such as Shana Grice were terribly let down by our current system. It is with all those victims in mind that I am sponsoring the Bill today, with the hope that it saves lives in the future while going some way to repairing those lives currently being destroyed by this crime.
Before I go on to develop further the case for the Bill, it is right that we nod to progress already made. Two new stalking offences were introduced in 2012: the first being an offence of stalking, the second an offence of stalking involving fear of violence, serious alarm or distress. The maximum sentence for the latter offence has now been increased to 10 years under the Policing and Crime Act 2017. However, it was clear from the responses to the public consultation launched in December 2015 that victims of stalking need to be protected with far more immediacy than is currently available.
These protection orders are not intended to replace a prosecution for stalking where the criminal threshold has been met, but we all recognise that it can take time to fully gather the evidence and present a case to court. During that period, victims can be especially vulnerable. These orders would give that much-needed protection. They can also be used where the criminal threshold has not been met but it is recognised that the acts are at risk of escalating. Earlier intervention is vital in stalking cases; this is not only to protect victims and make them feel listened to, but to address patterns of behaviour in perpetrators before they become more entrenched and cause further psychological or physical harm.
There is a clear gap in our existing regime, particularly in cases of non-ex intimate cases of stalking or where the stalking occurs outside a domestic abuse context. This is often referred to as stranger stalking, although it is important to note that well over 90% of stalking victims have known their stalker in some context, albeit sometimes tenuously. The Bill has widespread cross-party support because it helps to close that gap, giving victims in these cases genuine protections by allowing police and the courts to step in at an earlier stage. While the real-life consequences of stalking are obvious, the nature of this crime makes it challenging to police. Stalking is, by definition, a crime of persistence so it is important to take the evidence in the round rather than as a series of one-off events that may seem harmless in isolation.
The Bill introduces a new power for police in the form of stalking protection orders, a legal mechanism through which police can identify a situation where victims need to be protected and apply to the court for an order even if the perpetrator has not been prosecuted. Stalking protection orders will provide a formal means for us to notify individuals that their pattern of behaviour poses a risk to another person or persons and that it must cease. When applying for the order, police may specify exactly what these harmful behaviours are in any individual case and prohibit the repetition of these behaviours for at least two years by setting out clearly what the stalker must do—stop contacting the victim—and ways in which that might take place. This is a bespoke regime and orders may also contain positive requirements, such as undergoing behavioural therapy, as well as prohibitions of specific behaviour by the perpetrator.
It is important to note a high correlation with mental illness among perpetrators. The orders could contain a requirement that they undergo a mental health assessment. There is also a notification requirement: perpetrators would have to give notifications of all the names and aliases they have used to stalk their victims and their address. They would need to notify police of any name or address change within three days. It is also important to highlight that an order could provide protection for friends and family of the victim where necessary. As we know, this is a common characteristic in many stalking cases.
Although the proposed stalking protection orders would be civil orders, breaching one would be a criminal offence. The penalties here have real bite, with a maximum sentence of up to five years in most serious cases. However, none of these important protections will be of any benefit if the police and CPS do not know about them nor have the required training, expertise or willingness to exercise them. Another purpose of a Private Member’s Bill such as this is to ensure that everyone throughout the criminal justice system takes issues such as stalking seriously. Stalking must not be demeaned by references to someone “having an admirer”, nor can the police response continue to be as patchy as it is. One victim described to me a police officer’s disbelief that she was not flattered by having fresh flowers left at her door every day.
We know that the justice system’s response to stalking has fallen short over the years. Some of the findings in a report, Living in Fear, produced by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and Inspectorate of Constabulary, can make for difficult reading at times. It is clear that the police want to improve their response, and there are pockets of best practice in many forces around the country, helped significantly by the drive of Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, the national police lead for stalking and harassment. Sussex, Cheshire and Gloucestershire forces have made significant efforts, as has the Met; I thank those officers for their dedication and commitment. It is a step in the right direction that there is now a joint protocol between the police and the CPS on handling cases of stalking and harassment, as we cannot have a situation where improved police work then falls at the final hurdle, either with the CPS or in the magistrates’ court, because of a lack of understanding about the nature of this crime.
I recently visited the Metropolitan Police’s new stalking threat assessment centre, which is part of the Home Office-funded, multiagency stalking intervention programme. This project brings together a number of agencies—they all sit in the same office—including psychiatrists, mental health services and probation services. The two-year pilot aims to increase early intervention to reduce the risk of offenders becoming violent, while improving the response to victims of stalking and helping the police and other local services communicate and share information. Victim advocates are integral to this work to ensure that the victim’s voice is heard and is a core part of each case. Such a multiagency approach has to be the way forward. I sincerely hope that the unit gets long-term funding and is rolled out nationally. I would also like stalking training made mandatory for police officers. This would send a clear signal that action is matching words. It is imperative that every effort is made across the justice system to ensure that stalking laws are used to tackle stalking and to override the institutional memory muscle that often reaches for the power it knows best, harassment law. Stalking and harassment are different crimes. If we are ever to effect real change and understand the scale of the challenge, it is essential that this distinction is properly recognised. I know that a lot of work is going on at the CPS with the stalking leads. I sincerely hope that this Bill helps give its effort oxygen within the wider organisation.
I want to finish by turning away from the legal or practical benefits of stalking protection orders and returning to the wider set of circumstances that makes it important for us to pass this legislation. Stalking affects a huge number of people, both men and women, but women are still much more likely to be victims of this crime. This is yet another example of gender inequality and another reason why women are more likely than men to fear for their own safety. We must confront this as a society and do so in a way that educates people, identifies damaging behaviours and challenges those causing harm to others, deliberately or not.
The need for change is more than clear. The scale of suffering alone means that we cannot afford to do nothing. However, to create change, we have to do more than just prosecute people, however important that is. No doubt more needs to be done, but I hope that this Bill represents a real step forward. Not only does it provide a genuine first layer of protection but it faces up to this crime in a way that acknowledges its excessive nature. It provides a means for our police services to see the bigger picture and helps us intervene where people’s behaviour becomes harmful or poses a risk of harm to others.
Stalking cannot be ignored; it cannot be dismissed, and it is certainly not a compliment. This becomes unbearably clear when we listen to the voices of those who have experienced it as a constant and overbearing part of their everyday lives. That is why I am proud to present this Bill to your Lordships today and hope that you will join me in supporting it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this Second Reading debate and am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for taking forward Dr Sarah Wollaston’s Stalking Protection Bill. I must congratulate her on her comprehensive and excellent introduction to it.
Stalking is an insidious and wicked crime. It has a devastating effect on the physical and mental well-being of the person, usually a woman, who is stalked and it can have a profound effect on their family. It is about fixation, obsession and long-term behaviour. It is a persistent, intrusive crime and it engenders fear, alarm and distress. It results in long-term psychological harm. Typically, it takes about 100 episodes of stalking for victims to come forward and, when they do, too often they are not taken seriously, so the stalking becomes murder in slow motion.
Today, I noticed in the press yet another horrendous case, of a woman who was viciously attacked by her stalker, Malcolm Lockwood, and nearly murdered. Too many women are murdered despite reporting their killers to the police for threatening behaviour prior to their deaths. Indeed, 55 women who had reported an abusive partner, ex-partner or stalker were killed in the three years between 2015 and 2017. Many of those women had reached out to the police for assistance prior to their deaths and could be alive today had their concerns been taken seriously.
Like many of us, I have met many women who have been stalked. They are survivors of stalking and I pay huge tribute to them for their extraordinary courage. I have also met the families of women who were murdered, families who have somehow had the strength to turn their tragedy into positive action campaigning to support and protect victims of stalking—among them, the Ruggles, Gazzard and Clough families.
I know that, like me, the survivors and the families of victims welcome the Bill before us. I support the Bill and the fact that it provides another means of protecting women from the vile actions of stalkers. However, like Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner and a victim of stalking, I regret that the Bill does not go far enough.
I fear that the stalking protection orders, despite their good intentions, will not protect victims as they should. I fear that the police could use the orders instead of convictions and that the orders will not be enforced. Pieces of paper do not protect current or future victims. As it is, restraining orders are not enforced and police say that resources are the problem—I have no doubt that that is the case. At the moment, police give verbal warnings to stalkers and 80% of those warned face no charge. When breaches occur, the victims are blamed. We must have a culture change so that, with restraining orders and the new stalking protection orders when introduced, the focus shifts to the perpetrator.
As the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has said, the Bill,
“must be supported by appropriate training for police officers”.
That was recognised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. It further states:
“All criminal justice professionals must be able to recognise concerning patterns of behaviours and the malicious intent that accompanies stalking”.
It is absolutely right.
Training to understand the risks and dangers of stalking is vital. When legislation was passed in 2012 to introduce two new stalking offences, we made the case for mandatory training for the police. We were told that it was not necessary, and that guidance to officers would suffice. Since then I have made countless speeches—as have many noble Lords—urging the Government to ensure training for police and the CPS. Some excellent training is taking place, but it is not systematic.
I applaud those forces that have invested in training and the multiagency approach outlined by the noble Baroness, but too many forces have not undertaken training, and some have an appalling record. For example, nine women under the jurisdiction of West Yorkshire Police—the fourth-largest force in England and Wales—have been killed by their partner, ex-partner or stalker over three years, despite reporting them to the police. Two deaths occurred in 2015, four in 2016 and three in 2017. That cannot be right. I pay tribute to my own force in the county of Gloucestershire for the training that it undertakes, and for the way it works closely with the Hollie Gazzard Trust—a charity set up after Hollie was murdered by her stalker.
I also believe that the new orders will work only in conjunction with the register about which I have spoken to the Minister many times on the Floor of the House and in private meetings, for which I am very grateful. Currently there is no duty on police services to flag serial stalkers and domestic abusers, which is why the disclosure scheme is not working. It relies on victims asking questions about their perpetrator’s history. The onus should not be on them to ask about the perpetrator’s past. It should be ingrained in the police via infrastructure, systems and training that these are the most dangerous cases and that most perpetrators are serial offenders. If they keep getting away with the actions that feed their obsessions, they will keep doing them.
Perpetrators currently do not fear the consequences. Research shows that when there is a real-life consequence, they will change their behaviour. Some people say that a register will drive them underground—but they are already underground and invisible. Some people have questioned whether such a register is value for money. What is the cost of a woman’s life? I mentioned that 55 women were killed in three years after they had reported domestic abuse and stalking. One murder costs between £1.54 and £2 million to investigate. I understand that the register would cost £1.4 million in the first year. It would save lives and money.
The system already exists: the violent and sex offender register. There is an urgent need for this register to be expanded to include serial stalkers and domestic abusers. This is the only way to deal with the 25,000 serial offenders who commit 80% of the abuse, and to offer appropriate protection to victims and future victims. Of course, they will also be helped by the new stalking orders. As I said, the domestic violence disclosure scheme is simply not enough: it is reactive and slow and depends on a victim, their family or their friends asking the police about someone’s history of violence, with no duty on the police to identify serial abusers or input the information about serial perpetrators.
I will take this opportunity to highlight the case of suicides that are a consequence of stalking. At least 10 women a week commit suicide because of abuse, and some of them are victims of stalking who have reported many incidents to the police. A register would have allowed their perpetrator’s history of offending to be visible, and perhaps the victims would have been believed and their complaint taken seriously.
I am proud to be associated with the Unfollow Me campaign, spearheaded by VICE, which supports the calls by the excellent charity Paladin to introduce a stalkers register in the UK. I am also proud to be a friend of my fellow campaigner John Clough, who was awarded a richly deserved MBE in the New Year Honours List. John and his wife Penny—also an MBE—have been tireless campaigners since their daughter Jane was murdered by her stalker in 2010. They have been catalysts for new laws and for changing the law. We should listen to their voices, alongside those of the families of victims such as Alice Ruggles and countless survivors, in support of the register and of this important Bill.
I have huge regard and affection for the Minister, who probably thinks that I sound like a broken record, constantly repeating the same tune—but I again ask for her assurance that the register will be included in the forthcoming domestic violence Bill. If it is not in the Bill when it is introduced, I am confident that, thanks to the power of campaigners and their advocacy, it will be included by the time the Bill is enacted. I would also be grateful if she could inform the House when we can expect that hugely important Bill.
My natural inclination was to do what we have successfully done in the past and seek to amend the Bill before us in respect of the register. But that would take time, and I do not wish to impede the Bill’s progress at a time of great parliamentary instability. While it is a good Bill, it is inadequate—but it is another tool in the toolbox, and I hope that the police will be trained to use the new orders so they will have the maximum impact in protecting victims of stalking, Like the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I hope that the Bill will also raise awareness among the police, the CPS and the general public. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for promoting the Bill, which I fully support.
My Lords, it is an honour to contribute to this debate today on so vital and grave a subject. Stalking is a menace that takes an intolerable mental toll on its victims—and sometimes, tragically, a physical one. For far too long it has fallen between the cracks in our criminal justice system, leaving victims cruelly exposed and perpetrators free to continue causing misery and distress.
The evidence has now piled up that stalking is often misreported, misdiagnosed and even misunderstood by law enforcement and criminal justice policymakers. Where stalking is a proxy for domestic abuse, the law affords the necessary protection, and prosecutions are made and justice served. However, we now know that nearly two-thirds of cases do not involve a close relationship gone awry, so domestic abuse does not always apply. This leaves victims exposed to strangers, colleagues or loose acquaintances.
How then do we act on stalking to prevent and stop it, and to ensure that it cannot escalate into more violent and abusive behaviour? The stakes are high, with one in five women being affected by these behaviours, and one in 10 men. The Bill before us takes an innovative and, I believe, effective approach to tackling the problem. Since the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, stalking has been an offence, defined as inciting a “fear of violence” and carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years. However, prosecutions are few and convictions fewer.
This Bill’s preventive approach is welcome, to prevent and end this abusive behaviour. A stalking protection order, filed by the police, can enforce negative or preventive measures on the perpetrator, to prevent them following, contacting or indeed publishing material related to the victim—as we can all appreciate, a vital measure in the digital age. Indeed, I would be grateful if the Minister were able to confirm that the Bill will be fit for purpose when it comes to online stalking as well.
More radically, the Bill can also enforce positive actions on the perpetrator, such as attending an intervention programme, attending a mental health assessment or participating in a restorative justice programme. Both aspects are essential if justice is to be done, and I hope that the police will not hesitate to issue these orders wherever they can protect victims.
I know that colleagues in the other place raised concerns about training for police—this has been raised again today—and it is essential if these SPOs are to be an effective tool. As we have heard today, stalking is often misunderstood. That is why I am pleased to see the definition being expanded from the relatively narrow one concerning a fear of violence, where surely the burden of proof has been too high, to a longer list including watching or spying, loitering or monitoring of any kind. These behaviours still take an intolerable toll on victims, even if they fall short of the fear of violence or violence itself. The police must not hesitate to deploy them in all circumstances defined by the Bill, and they must have access to the right advice and training in doing so.
We must recognise that any one instance of these behaviours might not seem menacing or criminal—but stalking is about repetition, so these patterns of behaviour must be identified and stopped before they escalate in number. When it comes to online stalking we must be just as vigilant. Not only does this cause distress, but it, too, can escalate into physical stalking or violent behaviour.
Noble Lords may be aware of the Netflix drama “You”, which demonstrates the ease with which the information we keep online in our social media presence can be manipulated by criminals and psychopaths, with very real consequences. This is not a point about censorship, only that we should be careful before we trivialise or even glamorise such dangerous and criminal behaviour.
The Bill goes a long way to finally enable our criminal justice system to account for stalking, protect its victims and their families, and punish criminals. We must make sure that it does not fall short. As we saw with the 2012 Act, legislation is perhaps the easy part. Implementation is more difficult. I hope that we all remain vigilant to ensure that the police deploy these new tools actively and are provided full training and support to do so. I commend the work of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to drive this agenda and I know that it will not hesitate to speak out if delivery falls short in any way of what the victims of this awful criminal behaviour deserve.
My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lady Bertin for agreeing to steer this short but extraordinarily important Bill through your Lordships’ House. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the register of interests, in particular, my interest in police technology.
One of the reasons I am such an enthusiastic supporter of the Bill and the new stalking protection orders it introduces is because I believe that these orders could provide the basis for permitting the police, with the permission of the courts, to use the latest technology to tackle the scourge of stalking. I will say more about this later. I want to begin, however, by expressing my disappointment about how long it has taken to get this important Bill to this stage on its route to the statute book. The process of developing legislation to tackle stalking began a long time ago. In December 2015, the Government launched a public consultation exercise with a view to understanding better the nature and scope of stalking, particularly stranger stalking, and whether a new civil stalking protection order would be useful in dealing with this problem.
The Government’s response to this consultation appeared in December 2016. At that time the Government stated clearly that a gap had been identified in the protections available to the victims of stalking and that there was strong support for a new stalking protection order. They promised to legislate,
“as soon as Parliamentary time allows … The order will address the legislative gap and allow the police and the courts to intervene early”.
However, sadly, the Bill was not introduced in another place until 19 July 2017 and did not have a Second Reading until January 2018. Its Third Reading did not take place, as noble Lords know, until last November. During this time tens of thousands of innocent people have become the new victims of stalkers. Their lives have been made a misery on an almost daily basis. I have direct personal knowledge of cases where individuals have had to move away from their jobs, their families and their homes in an attempt to get away from a stalker who had become obsessed with them, despite the fact that they had had no previous relationship whatever with their stalker. Every day that the passage and implementation of the Bill is delayed is another day on which the police are deprived of this tool to help them deal with such offences. I very much hope, therefore, that the Bill can be dealt with expeditiously and can be fully operational before the summer, at the very latest.
While preparing for this debate, I read a fascinating article in the October-November 2018 issue of Magistrate magazine by Katy Bourne, who has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. She is the police and crime commissioner for Sussex. I am very sorry that this short but important piece is not mentioned in the excellent briefing produced by our Library. Katy Bourne has a passionate commitment to keeping her community safe and she has been doing a great job since becoming Sussex’s first PCC in November 2012. When it comes to stalking, particularly stranger stalking, her passion and determination are most clearly demonstrated. She probably has a greater understanding of the scourge of stranger stalking than anyone else in authority and a stronger commitment to tackling it. This is because she was herself the victim of such stalking for six long years. As she says in the article to which I referred, her stalker waged,
“a 6-year relentless and fixated campaign against me that has been truly awful. At first I was prepared to ignore the false, offensive postings of a local man who set himself up to hold me to account. Perhaps because I didn’t respond or complain, his postings became more extreme, including accusations that I was responsible for murder and child abuse. He began a concerted campaign to ‘bring me down’ that also involved a group of like-minded individuals. After five years of relentless online and social media harassment and two incidents of being followed and filmed, I was granted an injunction against him. I had also made a criminal complaint but, despite hundreds of pages of evidence showing a sustained five-year campaign, the Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence. Some of the material has now been taken down from online platforms but enough remains to appear in search engines as a damaging, distressing presence. The Committee on Standards in Public Life said that online and social media platforms had a responsibility to act more quickly and I would urge them to do so. It seems wrong that, despite an injunction, I still have to prove to the online providers that my stalker’s postings breached their guidelines”.
Incidentally, her stalker breached the injunction which PCC Bourne had been granted against him and in October last year received a four-month custodial sentence, suspended for two years. As a result of this horrible experience, Katy Bourne really understands the psychological and physical costs of stalking. As she goes on to say in the same article:
“Many people think stalking is confined to spurned lovers or obsessed fans: sad, slightly pathetic but relatively harmless. Although reports of stalking have rocketed, it is still regarded as a nuisance rather than a crime. Too often, victims are told ‘don’t look at the online abuse’ or ‘just ignore it, they will get bored and go away’ or ‘somebody keeps leaving you flowers and chocolates? What’s not to like?’ But if you were subject to a cumulative pattern of unwanted attention, as I was, relentlessly repeated by an obsessive, fixated individual, you wouldn’t appreciate the attention and would probably be fearful”.
At the beginning of this speech, I said that I believed that technology could play an important role in tackling stalking. What I have in mind is GPS proximity tagging, of the kind that is in widespread use around the world in the context of domestic abuse. Such tags, worn by perpetrators, coupled with a piece of kit carried by the victim, notify the victim, the police or any other monitoring agency when the perpetrator is about to breach the conditions of his or her order in relation to entering certain locations or areas where the victim resides, works or frequents. This equipment is well tested and, as I said, is in widespread use abroad. A large number of companies can supply it, and experience has shown that it saves lives.
I very much hope that the use of such tags will be permitted as part of the stalking protection orders provided for in the Bill. I say this because Clause 1 states that the SPO could prohibit the defendant from doing something, as far as is necessary, to protect the other person—the victim—from the risk of stalking. According to the Explanatory Notes, among the things the order can prohibit is,
“entering certain locations or … areas where the victim resides or frequently visits”.
The Explanatory Notes also state that the SPO could require the defendant to do something,
“to protect the other person from risk of stalking”.
Examples of such requirements are attendance at an intervention programme or a mental health assessment. But surely it is not unreasonable for the Bill to permit the SPO to require the defendant to wear a GPS proximity tag to ensure that he or she does not enter locations or areas where the victim resides or frequently visits. Without such technology to enforce it, the requirement to keep out of the way of the victim is a hollow threat.
I very much hope that once the Bill is on the statute book, the Government will encourage the police to learn how to use proximity tagging and will ask the courts to include such tagging as a requirement imposed on the defendant as part of their stalking protection order. But first, we must get the Bill on to the statute book. To that end, I urge the House to give it a Second Reading.
My Lords, I crave your Lordships’ indulgence to speak briefly in the gap; I will take a slightly different tack from that which has been taken up to now.
I make it absolutely clear at the outset that stalking is unquestionably a kind of behaviour against which it is entirely appropriate—indeed, necessary—to legislate. I would not want the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, to think that I do not regard her Bill and the case she has made for it with the utmost seriousness. But anti-stalking legislation can be abused, and it has been the subject of criticism. It has even been suggested that it might in some respects run counter to the European Convention on Human Rights. Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment for offences that can be committed through mere negligence. Some magistrates have felt that criminalising harassment might lead to unfounded accusations from complainants who are mistaken about another’s behaviour or are even being vindictive. Prosecutors agree that it is necessary to be alive to the possibility that the putative victim may be reading more into another’s conduct than is warranted. I have had experience of this myself, when someone overreacted—to put it at its lowest—or, more likely, used stalking legislation with the willing complicity of an unscrupulous firm of solicitors, to ventilate a grudge.
When drafting legislation in this area, we need to be careful not to collude in such behaviour. As an example of what I mean in relation to the present Bill, I am particularly concerned about Clause 1(4)(b), which states that a risk associated with stalking,
“may arise from acts which the defendant knows or ought to know are unwelcome to the other person even if”—
“in other circumstances, the acts would appear harmless in themselves”.
This weights the scales too much in favour of the complainant as against the defendant. It is not enough for the complainant to allege that the defendant knew or ought to have known that the acts complained of were unwelcome. There ought to be a test of reasonableness. The complainant should have to show not just that the defendant knew or ought to have known that the acts complained of were unwelcome but that they knew or ought reasonably to have known that they were unwelcome, and it was reasonable for them to be so.
I will be anxious to move amendments in Committee to make sure that the Bill gets this balance right. However, I would be glad to hear from the Minister that she takes the force of my argument and will give sympathetic consideration to accommodating it as the Bill progresses.
My Lords, I thank both the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and Sarah Wollaston in another place for bringing forward this Private Member’s Bill, which continues to improve the tools available to the criminal justice system to deal with the scourge of stalkers.
I will start by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Low. I have sympathy with the principle that any law can be abused, but the evidence that victims of stalkers—even the handful who might be malicious—are causing a problem for the current stalking law arrangement is absolutely unfounded. Working with the charities and many individuals who are fighting for the rights of victims of stalking, we still find that the problem is that the police, the CPS, and the criminal justice system more widely do not take seriously the issue of stalking. I am sure that the bar is still set high enough for some of the concerns set out by the noble Lord, Lord Low, to become apparent during any police investigation and in a court examination.
I am very grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet in advance of today, and I have already warned her about some of the points I want to raise. As other noble Lords have said, the most urgent thing is to get this Bill through its various stages and Royal Assent, so that it can be on the stocks and available as a tool.
I start with a point about what stalking actually is. The noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to Clause 1(4)(b). The definition, as outlined by other noble Lords, is absolutely clear: it is contact that is unwanted and unsolicited; the effect of the contact is to cause stress, alarm or anxiety; and it occurs on at least one and usually two or more occasions. The average number before a complainant goes to the police is still in the tens, so when they arrive at a police station, having rung in, there is already a clear history of a perpetrator’s behaviour towards them.
I pay tribute to the Susie Lamplugh Trust, Paladin, Action Against Stalking and individuals such as Tracey Morgan, who after more than two decades is still facing the consequence of her stalker not obeying the law and for whom, frankly, even a stalking protection order would not do the trick because other attempts have been made. Stalkers are fixated. The idea of behavioural therapy is right and important, but the really malicious stalkers are fixated people for whom it is almost impossible for their behaviour to be changed by the criminal system on its own. That is something that we as a country need to face up to.
I shall ask the Minister three or four points about the Bill. Clause 2(2) states at the end:
“only if satisfied that the prohibition or requirement is necessary to protect the other person”.
Can the Minister confirm that it is not just the other person, it is their family, their work colleagues and others? Some of your Lordships know that I myself was a victim of harassment and stalking, along with my colleagues, including, at the latter stage, my noble friend Lady Thornhill. My worry is that it will be a bit like a game of snakes and ladders. You might have a stalking protection order in which a particular victim is named, the person starts on another member of their family and you have to go right back down to the beginning of the process and start all over again, when we all know that stalkers tend to find others in order to affect their principal target, even if indirectly.
Although the victim is rightly not involved in the process of establishing a stalking protection order, will the victim’s voice be heard by the magistrate at a magistrates’ court? By the time we get to a stalking protection order there are likely to be witness statements, if not court transcripts, for what has happened to the victim. If someone has already been convicted—I am afraid that this is all too common; stalkers keep coming back—there will have been a victim statement prior to sentencing. It is important that magistrates understand the impact on the victim of the stalker’s behaviour.
The definition of both the stalking protection order and the interim order in Clause 2(3)(b) and Clause 5(4)(b) states:
“Prohibitions or requirements must, so far as practicable, be such as to avoid”,
interference with work. I am reminded of the case of Clare Bernal, who was murdered at Harvey Nichols. Sometimes work colleagues are the stalkers. I seek reassurance from the Minister that it would not be possible to trump stalking activity by saying, “I have my right to go to my place of work”—or church or educational establishment.
In Clause 10(5), the list of items that the police officer can take after a stalker has notified that they have moved into an area, there is one notable omission: DNA. It is fine to,
“take the person’s fingerprints … photograph any part of the person, or … do both of these things”,
but in this day and age, where stalking has often been a repeated habit over a period, DNA is a tool that the police can use and have used. It might be available and important. Again, I cite the case that I was involved in. We know that he licked envelopes. Although he wore gloves so there were no fingerprints, there was DNA on envelopes, which would have been a tool to enable the police to move very quickly.
I am also concerned more generally. I echo many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall; she and I have been here from the start of the stalking inquiry and the initial Bill that went through your Lordships’ House in 2011-12. It is all too easy for the CPS to downgrade stalking to harassment because it has more confidence in that charge getting through the courts and ending in a conviction. I ask for confirmation that the granting of an order would not halt, diminish or delay ongoing police investigations, because we know that there is evidence of the police using police information notices instead of investigation in some cases as a way to put a shot across somebody’s bow. The point is that stalking is a completely different order of offence.
I echo the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about mandatory training for the police and everybody involved in the criminal justice system. Often, police officers are not the people taking calls in call centres. The initial conversation must be handled by somebody who understands the difference between someone being bothered by somebody who will not go away when they keep asking them out and someone saying that for the past 10 days somebody has repeatedly harassed them on social media, been to their door or sent them letters. It is important that everybody in the criminal justice system knows and understands this. The courts need that mandatory training as well.
Finally, I echo the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, about GPS technology. It is not used just in the criminal justice system now; for example, the Neatebox app is used at Edinburgh airport, so that as disabled passengers arrive they are greeted by staff who can find them because they can identify where they are. It seems that the old idea of a panic button in the house is superseded somewhat by technology, which must be a tool for the criminal justice system.
In summary, I am sure that some cultural issues cannot be addressed in the Bill, but I believe firmly that we need to move forward with it as fast as we can to get it on the stocks.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for bringing this important Bill before us today and for her eloquent introduction where she explained what it is all about. I thank all noble Baronesses and the two noble Lords who have taken part in the debate—this is not just a women’s issue; it involves both men and women, and we must work together to try to resolve these big problems.
The Bill is an additional measure in supporting victims of stalking. It is welcome and, I believe, necessary, especially when one looks at the statistics. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, mentioned the 2016 Crime Survey for England and Wales, which showed that one in five women and one in 10 men had experienced stalking since the age of 16. Statistics show that 80% of victims are female and 70% of perpetrators are men. We know that stalking often leads to horrific crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault and murder.
The description of stalking from Paladin, the anti-stalking charity, sums up what this is all about:
“Stalking is one of the most frequently experienced forms of abuse. It is insidious and terrifying and can escalate to rape and murder. We need to treat stalking with the seriousness it deserves. There are many misconceptions about what stalking is about. It is not romantic. It is about fixation and obsession. It is a crime. It destroys lives. Stalking is a pattern of repeat and persistent unwanted behaviour that is intrusive and engenders fear. It is when one person becomes fixated or obsessed with another and the attention is unwanted. Threats may not be made but victims may feel scared”.
Criminal justice professionals must be able to recognise the concerning patterns of behaviour and the malicious intent that accompanies stalking. A number of noble Lords have mentioned how important it is that police officers and those from the other agencies involved are trained. That is essential if the Bill is to work effectively. The need for training is highlighted in the joint report Living in Fear – The Police and CPS Response to Harassment and Stalking, which was published in 2017 by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and the Crown Prosecution Service. The report said:
“stalking … was misunderstood by the police and the CPS. … it often went unrecognised. The police sometimes mis-recorded stalking offences, or worse, did not record them at all. Prosecutors … missed opportunities to charge stalking offences, instead preferring other offences, particularly harassment … As a result, we consider the harassment and stalking legislation should be reviewed to ensure it is as effective as possible in protecting victims of stalking and bringing perpetrators to justice”.
The police and other agencies are saying that so, as other noble Lords have said, there is a need for training. I hope that the Minister could give some sort of guarantee that resources will be given to ensure that the aims of the Bill can be put into practice.
One thing we can all agree on is that stalking protection orders will be a useful measure to combat the terrible crime of stalking and will go some way to assist victims when stalking occurs outside the domestic abuse context or where the perpetrator is not a current or former intimate partner of the victim—so-called stranger stalking. But I think we can all accept that that is not the whole picture. My noble friend Lady Royall, with her great experience in this field, pointed this out.
Laura Richards from the Paladin advisory service has told me that a warning order on its own will not stop a stalker. She says that there have been hundreds of cases which highlight this. Trimaan Dhillon was given a police information notice prior to murdering Alice Ruggles, a case mentioned by other noble Lords. Martin Bunch was issued a restraining order prior to murdering Jeanette Goodwin, while Deborah Langmead was murdered, along with her best friend, after her ex was given a PIN.
Although a stalking register is not part of this Bill, I am mentioning it because, as my noble friend Lady Royall also said, several organisations feel that it is essential, including Paladin and VICE, which have some very compelling evidence in this field. They believe that lives can be saved by protecting women from serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators by introducing a register which would enable the police to proactively identify, track, monitor and manage stalkers.
Currently, there is no framework which can track or monitor serial stalkers and the perpetrators of domestic violence. Instead, the police rely on a series of victims to report multiple crimes, and often it is the victims themselves who are forced to modify and change their behaviour, flee their homes and disappear in order to stay safe. I am sure the Minister will agree that there could be an opportunity in the new domestic violence Bill, when it is published, to review victim support services and that the victims of stalking could be included in that. I also hope that the Minister will have another look at the idea of a register—a point that has been made a number of times in this House—and give it serious consideration. Perhaps that is for another time rather than today because it is not included in this Bill.
We support the Bill, but we feel that there are other things that we also need to do. However, we welcome it and give it our wholehearted support. I again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for bringing it forward today and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I look forward to the Minister’s response, and we wish the Bill a safe passage.
My Lords, I again thank noble Lords for their contribution to this debate on a much-needed Private Member’s Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Bertin for bringing it before the House and for her powerful speech, but that is not to take away from the powerful speeches of other noble Lords today. I echo the tribute by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to John Clough and the families of other victims who cannot lend their own voices to the debate today. I also pay tribute to Dr Wollaston for introducing the Bill and successfully steering it through the other place, and to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Crime, who spoke on behalf of the Government in that Chamber. Their commitment to this has helped garner the cross-party support needed for this Bill to successfully conclude its passage, which—I am pleased to say—has been reflected in today’s debate. It has been very valuable to hear today from so many colleagues who have real-life experience and expertise in this subject.
Speakers today have described very well just what a terrible crime stalking is and the truly devastating effects it can have not only on the victims but, as I have just mentioned, on their families. It is a crime whose individual manifestations can sometimes seem harmless, but where the pattern of behaviour is anything but. It can encompass a large range of behaviours—not only the physical pursuit of a person, which people might tend to think of first, but interference in every aspect of that person’s life. The figures released by the ONS last November on calls to the National Stalking Helpline by people stalked by a family member or former partner make chilling reading. Some 48% of callers had been stalked by text, 41% by letter and a third on social media. Cyberstalking is a particularly unpleasant and uniquely modern manifestation of this crime, and it does not require sophisticated IT skills. In answer to my noble friend Lady Brady, who asked if the Bill is future-proofed to capture just this type of stalking: yes, it is.
The Bill will give society an essential extra tool in tackling stalking. Victims will be spared the pressure of having to apply for an order themselves and the risk of perpetrators threatening them if they do. Orders can be tailored very precisely to the defendant, targeting the particular ways in which they damage their victim’s life and the particular motivations that drive their actions. To answer my noble friend’s question about tagging or other electronic monitoring, I can say that the SPO issued will be particular to the individual. It is not in the Bill because it has a financial implication, but that is not to say that an SPO cannot reflect that a person might have to be monitored.
Those who suffer from mental health problems—many do—may be required to attend a mental health assessment, which should not just help the victim but prevent the stalker’s own behaviour becoming entrenched. The duration and geographical scope of the order may vary, depending on the particular risk the stalker poses. Immediate protection may be provided by an interim order while a case for a longer-term order is assembled. If a person, without good reason, breaches their order or fails to notify their details to the police, they are likely to be prosecuted.
Most importantly, these orders are preventive. Left unchecked, stalking behaviour can become chronic or worsen—as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I talked about yesterday—in the worst cases leading to terrible results, the sort we have heard about today. Stalking protection orders will allow the courts to intervene early to stop this behaviour at the outset. The regime will be fair and proportionate. Wherever possible, the conditions of an order will not interfere with a person’s work, study or faith. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made an important point about which is trump—the perpetrator’s ability to work or the victim’s ability to be protected and safeguarded against the stalker? It is clear that the victim’s safety and well-being comes first. I can confirm that today.
Defendants may challenge their orders, seek to vary their conditions and appeal against them. The Government will publish statutory guidance which will help to ensure consistency in their use. It will be a balanced system.
Some specific points were raised when this Bill was most recently debated in the House of Commons. A couple of Members considered that the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, which protects civil nuclear sites and material, should be able to apply for stalking protection orders and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime undertook to look at this. Having done so and having consulted with one of the assistant chief constables of that constabulary, we do not consider that there is a need for it to be able to apply for these orders. I know this issue was not mentioned this morning but I thought noble Lords would like an update on it. The CNC does not deal with routine reporting of crime or with criminal investigations. If when on counterterrorist patrol its officers encounter an ordinary criminal incident, they will deal with it only until the local territorial force is able to do so. That force would be able to apply for a stalking protection order should the need arise.
The Minister also undertook to examine the drafting of Clause 1(3), in particular its reference to a person in respect of whom the police may apply for a stalking protection order. Having considered the matter we believe that the drafting is consistent with other provisions in the Bill and does not need amendment. In the statutory guidance on the Bill, which we will publish as mandated by Clause 12, we will provide further clarity on this, as well as making clear the need to share information with the police area where the victim lives if that is different to the area whose force applied for the order.
On the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Gale and Lady Royall, about a register of stalkers, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her commitment to tackling stalking and for bringing to me people whose lives have been so horrifically affected by it. I again pay tribute to the work of the Cloughs and others to this end. I know that Paladin has been campaigning for a register. The irony of this argument is that the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Gale, and myself all seek the same end—that stalkers are captured and their activities minimised—and that is the basis of this Bill. Where we differ is that I do not think we need a bespoke register to achieve that. It would be a unique development.
I agree that there is not, for example, a national register solely for sex offenders but there is the dangerous persons database, otherwise known as ViSOR, for offenders who are convicted of specific sexual offences, those convicted of other serious offences for a year or more and those otherwise assessed by the police as potentially dangerous. I have always argued that ViSOR would capture such people. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, commented in a Question on this subject at the end of last year that it is likely to be impractical to create more registers and he questioned whether a new register would help. The focus should be on making better use of existing systems—which I am committed to doing—rather than creating new ones.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the domestic abuse Bill. I can guarantee that the draft domestic abuse Bill and the domestic abuse White Paper will be published in this Session and that the White Paper will mention the issue of a register. I hope that gives her some hope. We will beg to differ about the method, but not the eventual intent of capturing these dreadful perpetrators.
Almost every noble Lord brought up training. This goes to what some noble Lords mentioned today and something that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I talked about yesterday, which is cultural shift. Five, 10 or 15 years ago, the police were ill equipped to deal with this type of activity. My noble friend Lady Brady talked about legislation being only part of the solution. She is right. This requires all sorts of interventions, and police training is one of them. To ensure that the front-line response is as good as it can be, the College of Policing will shortly publish refreshed guidance for the police on investigating stalking and harassment, which, as noble Lords have mentioned, are two entirely different things. Training might help police awareness of that.
We will use statutory guidance on the order to increase police understanding of stalking, what stalking behaviour looks like and how it differs from harassment. The recent inspection of HMICFRS and the CPS Inspectorate of the response of the police and the CPS to stalking and harassment showed that there is more to do to ensure that the criminal justice system’s response is as robust as it can be. We are working closely with the police, the CPS and others to address the findings of the report, including through a Home Secretary-chaired national oversight group. We will continue to work with the police and others in the criminal justice system to raise awareness of stalking and to ensure that the appropriate guidance, training and responses are in place.
One or two noble Lords mentioned the importance of a multiagency response. I absolutely agree. My noble friend Lady Couttie is not in her place, but the approach that Westminster has taken to this is not only ground-breaking but is seen as best practice, and I commend the way it operates.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the orders covering friends and family and mentioned the way in which, having started on an individual, a perpetrator can then intensify the stalking behaviour to affect friends and family. That could be covered, if the court was satisfied that there was a stalking-related risk to those people, which in the example the noble Baroness gave me yesterday there absolutely would be. She talked also about work, and I have addressed that.
The noble Baroness asked me yesterday about the use of DNA as well as fingerprints and photos. I am afraid the answer is no, because the only purpose of this provision is identification. I know exactly the point she was making about future-proofing and future information, but photos and fingerprints enable swift identification and DNA would take some days. The identification requirement in the Bill mirrors those in other notification regimes, such as for sex offenders and people covered by the CT Act 2008, which do not include provision for DNA to be used for identification with notification requirements.
The noble Lord, Lord Low, asked about the reasonableness test and whether the defendant should know that their actions are unwelcome. It is the same test as in stalking criminal legislation and the Protection from Harassment Act. The court must consider necessity, proportionality and Article 8 rights, and the defendant has a right of appeal.
I am very proud to respond to this Second Reading today and proud of some of the actions that the Government have taken to date. We introduced the first specific stalking offences in 2012. We are working with the police and the CPS to ensure that their response to stalking continues to improve, and are overseeing that response through an oversight group led by the Home Secretary. We are also funding a number of really good projects—for example, the national stalking helpline and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. They are a real lifeline for people who may feel that they have literally no one else to turn to. Through the tampon tax fund, we have given funding to three projects that address stalking, including Black Country Women’s Aid, which is piloting the first specialist support service for victims of stalking in that part of the country and doing research.
I hope that everyone will feel able to support this Bill. The signs so far today are very good. Coupled with the continued improvements in the criminal justice response, it provides an opportunity for us to transform our approach to safeguarding these victims at the earliest possible opportunity. I hope that the Bill will make steady and speedy progress through the House.
I thank all noble Lords for their powerful contributions today. The quality of the debate in this Chamber and in the other place is testament to how seriously we in Parliament take stalking. The legislative gap that victims are falling into is unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that this Bill, with its cross-party support, will receive a successful passage.
I thank the Minister for her very thorough summing up. I will not take too long, but I want to raise some points. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has great expertise in this area and I thank her for all the work she has done. I very much enjoyed getting to know the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, a little more, with our shared interest in protecting women. Both noble Baronesses raised the issue of the stalking register. It is right that it is not part of this Bill, because we obviously have to keep it prescriptive in order to get it over the legislative hurdles. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, are absolutely right that the management and tracking—for want of a better word—of stalkers are incredibly important. It is an issue that we must keep returning to to ensure that we have the correct measures in place, and I look forward to working with her and others on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others also talked about a culture change. That is very important and it particularly applies as well to domestic abuse. People tend to ask, “Why didn’t she leave?”, “Why didn’t she do something?”, or “Why didn’t he do something?”, but the onus should be on the perpetrator, with an emphasis on changing the culture across the board.
I thank the noble Baroness and others for their commitment not to amend the Bill. We all know that that would seriously delay it and possibly kill it, which would be a huge disservice to the many victims who need action as soon as possible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke movingly about her own terrible experiences, and I extend my heartfelt sympathy to her and her family for what she went though. I thank her, too, for her valuable support.
Mental health is at the core of many stalking cases, and I am very pleased that positive restrictions will be able to be put in stalking protection orders to ensure that perpetrators undergo mental health assessments. That, as well as the multiagency approach that we are seeing across many police forces, will be very important. Police services have to work with mental health services to try to stop stalking in the first place.
My noble friend Lady Brady made a very thoughtful speech and was absolutely right to raise online stalking, as the internet is now a key weapon for stalkers. It is right that stalking protection orders should extend to the internet. I reiterate her point that far too much information about people is now too easily available. It is very easy for someone to track another person. By searching for someone’s name on the internet, you can get a huge amount of information, thanks to many websites. I am very pleased that orders could contain prohibitions on certain uses of the internet, and software could be placed on perpetrators’ devices to ensure that they did not breach that. Companies and platforms have a responsibility to respond properly to victims when they are being stalked and to take blocking requests seriously in order to help the authorities in good time where necessary.
My noble friend Lord Wasserman spoke eloquently on this issue and with a huge amount of knowledge. I agree wholeheartedly with him: I am sorry that there are not specific measures in the Bill, but I listened with interest to the Minister’s answer on that and I will work closely with him to try to include it in the domestic abuse Bill. He is also right to flag up the important work of Katy Bourne; she is a very effective police and crime commissioner. I would like to thank the Home Office and its officials for their diligent and committed help with the Bill; they have been a Rolls-Royce team.
I hope that all victims of stalking will take some comfort from knowing that better help and support should be on the way. This Bill is not a silver bullet, but I hope that it adds another building block to help our justice system properly to tackle a crime that, for far too long, has gone under the radar. I listened with interest to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on which I echo what the Minister said. I want to make sure that we do not amend this Bill; I would like to meet with the noble Lord to reassure him that, as the Minister said, there does, absolutely, have to be a reasonable test for whether the defendant knows their actions are unwelcome. Proportionality, necessity and Article 8 rights would of course be taken into account.
In this week of all weeks, where we see political discord reach all-time lows, I hope that we will stand as a small symbol of unity on this important issue and, as a result, do the right thing for society. This Bill is dedicated to all victims, past, present and future; I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.