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Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 14 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that all police forces have the requisite training on stalking to prevent women and girls being murdered or taking their own lives.

My Lords, before I start, may I take a moment to apologise to the doorkeepers? Last week, I referred to them as doormen. Of course, they do not stand outside the doors of nightclubs—maybe they do; I hope not—but I wanted to take this first opportunity to apologise, so that they know how very grateful we are to them.

Stalking is an insidious crime, which has a significant impact on victims’ well-being. To ensure that the front-line response is as effective as possible, the College of Policing has recently published new advice for police responders and call handlers on how to respond to reports of stalking and/or harassment. Further advice to police on investigating stalking crimes will be released later this year.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer, and warmly welcome the new advice being given to the police by the College of Policing. However, 70% of victims do not go to the police until the 100th incident, and when they do, too often they are still not believed and no action is taken. At least 60 women have been killed by their stalkers since 2015, so I very much hope that the College of Policing’s advice will be thoroughly implemented. However, I should like to be sure that it is not just guidance but that there is much more to it. May I also ask the noble Baroness when judges will receive training on the sentencing guidelines on intimidatory offences, introduced in 2018?

My Lords, the noble Baroness points out the very stark, very low figures for people who will go to the police. If officers do not have the training to spot the signs of harassment and deal with it, the figure for perpetrators being brought to justice will be even lower. There is a training programme for the police, Domestic Abuse Matters, which, as she said, has been developed by the College of Policing and Safelives.

I pay tribute at this point to my noble friend Lady Barran, who was chief executive of Safelives. The current evaluation shows that the programme has had a positive impact on police officers’ knowledge of coercive control and on attitudes to domestic abuse, and that a number of police forces have undertaken Domestic Abuse Matters training. In the Victims Strategy, the College of Policing committed to review the national policing curriculum and develop a set of resources to support learning in relation to victims and witnesses, for police forces to then use as a basis for any relevant locally based training. I will get back to the noble Baroness on the point about judges.

My Lords, stalking has been described as murder in slow motion. While the number of reported incidents has increased fourfold in recent years, charge rates have halved. We do not need the Minister to tell us that the police must do better, although I welcome her comments about training, but can she tell us what plans the Home Office has properly to address how the police will be given the compulsory training and resources to help stem this tide in human misery and save lives?

I think I outlined the training to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, but on charge rates halving, I have acknowledged previously that the figure for referrals—and therefore for charges—has dropped. I know that the police and the CPS are working together to understand why that is. I also know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary chairs an oversight board to understand why the figures are going the way that the noble Baroness describes.

My Lords, as stalking is one of the most frequently experienced forms of abuse and can escalate to rape and murder—it is a crime and it destroys lives—I ask the Minister once again whether she will consider introducing as a matter of urgency a national register of serial stalkers and domestic abuse perpetrators, as recommended by Paladin. I understand that the actress Emma Watson was recently at the G7 meeting, where she raised the issue of stalking and linked it to the Istanbul convention. Does the Minister agree that if the Government were to introduce such a register, it would help them go some way towards ratifying the convention?

On the noble Baroness’s second question, she is absolutely right: the Government were challenged, and I was challenged, by Emma Watson on Friday about the fact that we had not yet ratified the Istanbul convention. She is also right to link it to domestic abuse, because it will be the domestic abuse Bill that will enable us, through the definition, to ratify the convention.

I think I have previously been clear that a series of separate registers could fragment the system that we have. Dangerous and violent stalkers should already be captured on ViSOR and managed through MAPPA if appropriate.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that stalking can be an obsessive crime and is quite often related to mental illness? Of course, it can lead to murder. I dealt with a case recently where the accused was a foreign national. Importantly, he was convicted of the crime and eventually deported. The police need to take the issue seriously and senior officers need to supervise those on the front line who deal with these incidents. Quite often, they deal with them as domestic disputes, which of course they are not.

The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that stalking is, at its heart, an obsessive undertaking. Often these obsessions are linked to mental conditions and the police need to recognise what stalking looks like. We have, therefore, talked about training, which is the only way to catch perpetrators and, in many cases, to bring them to justice.

My Lords, one option that would benefit the police when dealing with this sort of crime is for misogyny to be made a hate crime, along with racial and religious hatred, homophobia and so on. Is that something the Government are thinking about bringing forward legislation on? We obviously have a fair amount of time here and could probably deal with it quite quickly.

The noble Baroness makes a good point. She will know that we have asked the Law Commission to look at various types of hate crime. Misogyny is among the things they could look at to see whether there is anything further we can do in legislation to enhance the types of crime we consider hate crimes.

My Lords, coercive control can sometimes be so subtle and perpetrators so manipulative that victims may not even be aware of it themselves. Does the Minister agree that compulsory sex and relationship education is an essential part of keeping young people safe from this type of offence?

The noble Lord is right that coercive control can be so subtle that the victim of it does not realise, sometimes until many years down the line, that financial control or mental manipulation is happening to them. Sex and relationship education is to be made compulsory. Every young child needs to know what a healthy relationship looks like, as opposed to a coercive or manipulative one.