stalking - library image by Dellboyy Art, creative commons

Stalking incidents in Cheshire have more than doubled in a year to more than 1,650, latest statistics reveal.

But new Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) brought in 18 months ago have only been used 18 times by Cheshire Police, BBC Data Unit figures show.

In 2019-20, there were 775 stalking incidents investigated by Cheshire Police.

But that rose to 1,650 in eight months between April-December 2020.

SPOs were introduced in January 2020 as a new civil power for police to impose restrictions on suspected stalkers.

They are designed to make it easier to curb the behaviour of stalkers, with a lower burden of proof required than for a criminal conviction.

But the use of SPOs varies widely from force to force, and Cheshire Police has only applied for 18 in total in that time, with 13 granted.

The charge rate for stalking offences has also dropped dramatically in Cheshire, down to just 5.6% currently compared to 26% in 2017-18.

Across England, just 249 SPOs have been granted since January 2020, despite more than 55,000 stalking incidents being recorded by police in the nine months to December 2020 alone.

And more than half of all police forces have seen stalking incidents double.

The figures were obtained by BBC Data Unit from FOI requests to all 44 police forces in England and Wales.

A spokesperson for Cheshire Police said the force “remains absolutely committed to safeguarding victims of stalking and harassment”.

“The National Police Chiefs Council continues to work with key partner agencies to improve the response to stalking and harassment.

“During the pandemic, NPCC has seen a change in how stalkers target their victims, with an increase in cyber stalking and work on understanding how opportunities can be limited for victims to be stalked in this way.

“We are fully committed to doing all we can to bring offenders to justice and safeguard victims and we will continue to raise awareness of the changing landscape of stalking, how to report concerns and which organisations can provide guidance, advice and support.”

The force said its Harm Reduction Unit (HRU) continues to manage risk in cases of stalking and serial domestic abuse.

Lisa King – communications director at domestic violence charity Refuge, said: “The policing response is an absolute postcode lottery. And that’s really disappointing to see.

“The stalking orders haven’t been in play for that long. The police should have had training during that time to understand how to use those stalking protection orders that are so needed by women, to protect them.

“The legislation is there, it’s no good passing the legislation and then letting it become a dusty piece of paper. It needs to become meaningful.

“It’s important to remember the vast majority of stalking or domestic abuse incidents never get reported to the police – only ever around 20%. So the figures really are the tip of an iceberg.

“This really should be a wakeup call for police forces across the country to get the training in place, and then start to message also that these orders are there, that women and men can use, so that they are taken up and protection is given.”

Suky Bhaker, CEO of stalking charity the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “It’s not the case that the stalking cases aren’t coming through given the stalking rates that exist.

“What is happening here is a lack of understanding about stalking.

“Victims tell us this time and time again, on the national helpline, that when they are calling up the police, often the context for context of behaviour isn’t being understood.

“Stalking is about a pattern of behaviour. It’s about a fixation obsession.

“And often when victims call the police an isolated incident is what’s been recorded, rather than the full pattern of putting that together.

“It’s absolutely imperative that when those orders are breached, the full force of law is used and offenders are prosecuted otherwise it sends a message that perpetrators can act with impunity, that there’s not going to be repercussions for those actions.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Stalking Protection Orders stop perpetrators in their tracks and prevent them contacting victims. We expect police forces to make full use of them.

“The Home Office and College of Policing have worked closely with forces to produce guidance on issuing them.

“Next week, Home Office officials will meet with the police and other stakeholders who work to tackle stalking to set out our findings on how effectively police forces have been using SPOs and discuss how to improve this.”

Anyone who believes they may be subject of stalking can report online, by calling 101 or by calling in at one of our helpdesks.

Always call 999 in an emergency.

(featured image for display only by Dellboyy Art, creative commons)

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