REVEALED: Stalking cases rocket to over 300 a year in South Yorkshire 

Stalking.
Stalking.

The number of complaints about stalking has rocketed in recent years with an incident now reported almost every day in South Yorkshire, figures have revealed. 

Data showed there were 333 complaints about stalking filed to South Yorkshire Police in 2017/18 - up from just eight complaints in 2013/14. 

Laura Richards, founder of Paladin.

Laura Richards, founder of Paladin.

However, only a small number of suspects have been charged with an offence out of all reported crimes.     

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Police put the huge rise down to an increase in awareness and changes to the way stalking offences have been categorised in recent years.

Senior officers also highlighted an increase in people using social media websites such as Facebook as a way of stalking people.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.

The figures have now fueled calls for a national stalking database to be created which would be similar to the Sex Offenders’ Register and list those convicted of the offence.

More than 150, 000 have signed a petition backing the campaign for a database led by Paladin, the national stalking advocacy service.

Laura Richards, a previous victim of stalking and founder of the service, said: “Far too many are serial abusers have been getting away with it and have been allowed to offend with impunity. 

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Louise Haigh, Sheffield Heeley MP.

Louise Haigh, Sheffield Heeley MP.

“A register for serial offenders is needed and police must close down the perpetrators space for action just as they do with sex offenders.

“This will create the much-needed change in culture where it is the perpetrators behaviour that is focused on and not the victims.

“Often the victims are told to change their behaviour, their mobile phone and move - as if this will stop the behaviour. Perpetrators go from one victim to another.

“The register will save both lives and money.”

Chief Inspector Victoria Short.

Chief Inspector Victoria Short.

The figures, revealed through a Freedom of Information request, show there has been a sharp rise in the offence over the last five years. 

From eight in the financial year 2013/14, it jumped to 89 in 2015/16, then to 122 in 2016/17 and 333 last year. 

In addition, between April and the end of July this year there has already been 288 stalking complaints made. 

However, the number of people charged is relatively low. 

Between April 2013 and July this year just 48 suspects were charged with stalking.

The data showed there was a wide range of reasons why a prosecution could not be brought.

This included the suspect being too ill to face action, the victim did not support police action and no suspect being identified.    

Nationally, the number of recorded stalking offences has trebled in England and Wales since 2014 but charges could only be brought in 25 per cent of cases. 

The maximum prison sentence for stalking was recently increased from five to 10 years, and from seven to 14 years if the offence was racially or religiously aggravated.

Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh, shadow policing minister, called for the justice system to “take the problem seriously” and called for the Government to give them the resources to tackle it.

She said: “The numbers of arrests and charges across all crime types are unacceptably low and the only way they will be improved is by investing properly in the police - and in investigators in particular.”

Chief Inspector Victoria Short, South Yorkshire Police's force lead for stalking and harassment, said increased awareness of how victims can report stalking offences and support offered to them has led to “more people coming forward to report incidents.” 

She added that two new offences have been created for stalking, which were “not as easily recognised by both the police, other agencies and the public” five years ago, resulting in lower recorded crimes at that time. 

Chief Insp Short added: “There are a percentage of complaints in relation to victims being targeted via social media sites, such as Facebook.

“Offenders sometimes are of the belief that their identity can be hidden through the use of social media but this isn’t the case in the majority of offences.

“Stalking can have different effects on victims dependent on the circumstances. It is a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or serious alarm or distress to the victim.”

She added South Yorkshire Police staff have recently received training around a number of factors including awareness and guidance, risk management and victim care.

Solicitor Yvette Levy, of the Crown Prosecution Service, explained that there has to be enough evidence for a “realistic prospect of conviction” if prosecutors are to charge someone so “inevitably there will always be more cases reported than there are charged.”

She added: “Cases involving claims of stalking and harassment are often complex. 

“For example, stalking behaviour may involve following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media.

“In many cases, the conduct might appear innocent but when carried out repeatedly, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim.

“The CPS has issued national guidance for all our prosecutors to help with decision-making in these cases and we have also agreed a joint approach with the police to ensure that a strong and co-ordinated approach is taken.”

Dr Alan Billings, police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, said he was satisfied police have “sufficient resources” to tackle the issue. 

He added: “In a high number of these cases there comes a time in the process where the victim disengages – for many different reasons - and without their support it is often impossible to secure a conviction.”

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He believes the increase in reported incidents shows people have “greater confidence” that police will tackle the complaint.

*Victims of stalking can report crimes and seek advice by ringing police on 101 or by visiting paladinservice.co.uk