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Stalking Protection Orders

Volume 820: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage police forces in England and Wales to increase the use of stalking protection orders to safeguard the lives of victims, particularly women.

My Lords, we expect all police forces to make full use of stalking protection orders and the Safeguarding Minister has written to chief constables whose forces have not applied for many of them to make that clear. The Home Office is working closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s stalking lead to ensure that these orders are being used appropriately and to establish best practice.

My Lords, an awful lot of letters must have been written because the orders were introduced in 2020. In that year, while 80,000 stalking offences were reported, only 456 stalking orders were issued. In Wales, 7,000 offences were reported and only five orders were issued. The Government said in 2019 that they

“will publish statutory guidance which will help to ensure consistency in their use.”—[Official Report, 18/1/19; col. 471.]

I suggest that there is no consistency. It is a postcode lottery at the moment, and they are used very rarely. A recent Home Office review stated that there was a “lack of training” and insufficient staff and resources. What are the Government doing to address each of those problems? I am glad that the Government are prioritising violence against women and girls, but there seems to be a lack of prioritisation of offences in relation to stalking.

My Lords, on actions in relation to enhancing training, I can advise that in 2019 the College of Policing released a set of new advice products. There is a mandatory course for prison offender managers to complete. Within the Crown Prosecution Service, e-learning modules in stalking, harassment and restraining orders are available. The noble Baroness asked how many letters had been sent, although I acknowledge it was partly rhetorical. All chief constables have been written to and, depending on how they were using SPOs, the tenor of the letters has been either to congratulate or to encourage.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the nature of stalking means that individual incidents may seem innocent enough, but it is when a pattern emerges that they become insidious? Does that not mean that the police need specific training to recognise stalking patterns, and that all police forces should have such training tailored and developed so that victims get the help they deserve?

I agree wholeheartedly with both parts of the noble Lord’s question. I assure him that such training specifically for police—particularly, and importantly, for first responders—is in place so that the real nature of stalking and the tremendous strains and fear it provokes can be identified at the very outset.

My Lords, the stalking protection orders are very welcome in all matters for victims, and I am grateful to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for its briefing. However, I am really concerned, as a former Victims’ Commissioner, that we are seeing murky waters. I appreciate that the Safeguarding Minister has sent a letter, but that is to the heads of all these police forces; it is the policemen on the ground who are not adequately trained and are not supporting victims. I say this as I am dealing with two different areas where insufficiently experienced officers are coming out to deal with the severity of the liquids being thrown. Can the Minister go back to the department and see what is happening on the ground? While you are at the top of the league, the bottom is not giving support to victims. The severity of these stalking offences is very important. I hope we are going to address this in the victims’ Bill in the next parliamentary Session.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for the question. In part, I refer her to the answer I gave to the previous question. The situation is that there is a degree of independence for individual chief constables to prioritise matters within their own jurisdictions, if I may use that expression. We are seeking to emphasise the real importance of this particular area of law and the real harm inflicted upon victims of stalking, so that it percolates down from the chiefs to the foot soldiers.

My Lords, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust reports that it repeatedly sees police officers trying to apply for other protections, such as non-molestation orders, instead of stalking protection orders. Given that half of stalking cases are not from domestic abuse settings, if you are being stalked by a stranger or a work colleague—not an ex-partner—non-molestation orders would be of no use. What will the Government do to change this? Otherwise, non-domestic stalking cases will continue to be ignored.

I gratefully acknowledge the noble Baroness’s question and the terms thereof. The Government are aware that there is a bad practice of applying for the wrong order or for running SPOs in tandem with other matters, including prosecutions. These are aspects of the bad practice that we are seeking to advise against. We are also moving forward with those police forces that are doing exceptionally well—I mention Sussex and Nottinghamshire in those contexts. We are working with police and crime commissioners as well, who are also promulgating good practice through their association.

My Lords, in addition to the imposition of restrictions, stalking orders can also include positive conditions, such as requiring offenders to seek mental health treatment or enrol in a drug addiction programme. In this way, they can not only address the horrific impact but help to reduce reoffending. Can the Minister say how many of the 456 orders issued in England and Wales over the last year have included any requirement for this kind of treatment or training?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that question. I am aware, of course, that one of the great values of SPOs is that they can impose positive conditions as well as negative ones. I regret to say that I do not have the specific statistic for which the noble Baroness asked, but if she will permit me, I will write to her with that.

My Lords, by what specific criteria will the Government judge whether their intervention with chief constables on stalking protection orders has been successful or unsuccessful, so that we can hold the Government to account?

In the first instance, we look at the number of stalking protection orders that are sought and imposed. The figures that I have in relation to their use are encouraging. I can tell the House that 78% of SPO applications in 2021 were granted, compared to only 5% refused, with 17% being dealt with in other ways or withdrawn.

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord advise the House on whether the Crown Prosecution Service has any play in this? Obviously, the police increasingly look to the Crown Prosecution Service for advice, and I wonder whether it has any involvement in this type of decision and whether perhaps it should.

The Crown Prosecution Service is involved in training its staff in relation to these matters. Of course, as an independent body, it takes decisions on the prosecution of crime, but in addition the victims of stalking are able to apply, without cost to themselves, for these orders.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that his policy to extend it to all police services is very welcome, and that women should be protected at all times against violence or attacks, whatever they may be?

I am grateful to my noble friend for this point. Tackling violence against women and girls is a priority for the Government. I am sure that the House will agree that that should be the case. My noble friend is correct to say that there is a universal application of such measures. Scotland has its own distinctive regime, but it is one that deals with the same matter as SPOs in England and Wales.

My Lords, could I gently take the Minister to task for the accuracy of some of the responses that he has been given in his brief? If training were in place for all first responders, I really do not think we would be seeing the alarming figures that were issued today for Wales, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. These showed that, out of 7,000 alleged stalking offences, only five SPOs were given. The cost of training an officer fully in the complexity of stalking is £75 per police officer. Will the Government—a combination of the Home Office and the NPCC—get on the backs of every chief constable in England and Wales and get something done? A letter from Rachel Maclean is not enough of itself.

First, I acknowledge the interest and hard work which the noble Lord has devoted to this topic. I fully accept that a single letter from the Safeguarding Minister sitting in the other place will not address these matters per se. The figures the noble Lord quotes to your Lordships are indeed worrying. However, I hope that the answers I have been able to give provide some comfort to the House—the noble Lord is shaking his head—as to the seriousness with which the Government take these matters.