Impact Investigations Team
*Trigger warning: discussion of stalking and harassment*
*Long read article taken from Print Edition #269, copies available across campus and online*
One early January morning, a post on a local Nottingham forum caught the attention of our Impact team. “My daughter and I are suffering from stalking and harassment”, it read, the author of the post a woman in her forties who we’ll refer to as Jane. The comments were filled with well-meaning shows of support: some providing practical advice such as “speak to your local Women’s Aid”, others suggesting deterrents such as sleeping with the television on or investing in cameras. Impact made contact with Jane and asked her if any of these measures had been successful. Worryingly, she said they had not, and alleged that it was discrimination within Nottinghamshire police and inadequate legal protection for victims that had resulted in a failure to resolve her case. Impact Investigations explore the case.
Jane and her daughter Emma (names changed for anonymity) live in fear of Emma’s ex-partner. After a relationship breakdown, Emma moved out of the home they shared due to domestic violence. Speaking with Jane six months on, she told us that this man was subjecting both herself and Emma to intimidation, stalking and harassment.
Jane has a disability and English is her second language, so this added further access barriers when reporting her case to Nottinghamshire police
Since the breakup, he has left countless voicemails and threatening messages, damaged private property and tried to intercept her daughter at work. “I go without showering for a whole week due to anxiety,” Jane told us. “I’m losing my hair and my appetite is so bad.” Jane stated that she hardly leaves the house, terrified that he may be hiding in her garden, something she knows he has done before. Jane has a disability and English is her second language, so this added further access barriers when reporting her case to Nottinghamshire police. She believes these factors led police to treat her as a burden.
As soon as the stalking began, Jane and Emma both made police reports. However, an investigation concluded that no further action could be taken due to insufficient evidence. An appeal to a local MP led to a case review which resulted in the same outcome. Throughout these six months, Jane kept detailed records of all potential evidence as advised by police. This included voicemails, emails, Ring Doorbell footage and CCTV. The latter, she tells us, even captured the perpetrator damaging her property, however police said the footage was too unclear to press charges.
Impact contacted Nottinghamshire police for comment, receiving the following response from Chief Inspector Amy English: “Officers carried out a full investigation including CCTV enquiries, speaking to witnesses and interviewing a suspect”. Police “arrested a 35-year-old man in relation to these offences” but there was “insufficient evidence to progress the case to court”. Chief Inspector English stressed the importance of ensuring “victims are listened to and are kept up to date with progress in cases”. She also recognised the “impact stalking and harassment offences have on victims and… their friends and family”, concluding with this message for anyone affected: “We will treat them sensitively and professionally and will do everything we can to gather all of the evidence and take action.” Despite these assurances, Jane and Emma’s cases have both been closed, even though the stalking is ongoing. Jane says she feels “terrified, let down and alone”.
According to Scotland Yard, stalking incidents increased by 300 percent between April 2020 and February 2021. Freedom of information requests by Impact revealed an increase of over 57% in stalking incidents reported to Nottinghamshire police between March 2020 and December 2021, with a peak of a 136% increase in October 2020. Nearly 82% of these stalking offences were directed against women. Rachel Horman-Brown, a lawyer and chair of stalking advocacy charity Paladin said in an interview with the BBC that lockdowns had made victims easier to stalk as people were confined to their homes. Despite this, a BBC freedom of information request found that arrests had risen at half the rate of offences between 2019 and 2020.
Many believe UK stalking laws provide insufficient protection to victims. The University of Nottingham’s Pro Bono society told Impact: “the law on stalking is in a similar position to the law on domestic abuse about twenty years ago – it needs developing.” With stalking only being introduced as a specific offence in 2012, as an annex to the 1997 Protection from Harassment Order, it is still not formally defined in UK legislature. Instead, it is characterised through potential acts such as “watching” and “spying” on a person, or “interfering with property”, which police apply on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s as though they [the police] are waiting for someone to be killed before they do anything. How much evidence do they need?”
This raises questions about the law’s efficacy. If the responsibility for deciding when a case constitutes stalking falls to the officers in charge, this creates room for varied responses across the force. Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), new civil orders created to tackle stalking in 2020, seem like a step in the right direction. However, leading stalking authority the Suzy Lamplugh Trust states that their effectiveness is limited if officers do not feel a case meets the ambiguous stalking threshold.
Whilst sufficient evidence is vital in the prosecution of any crime, providing evidence can be particularly problematic in stalking cases. This is because stalking offences are defined by the accumulation of small acts like persistent calling and messaging, acts which may not seem menacing when considered in isolation. However, these small acts can escalate and become a precursor to violence. As Jane said: “It’s as though they [the police] are waiting for someone to be killed before they do anything. How much evidence do they need? It could end with a dead body somewhere.”
Furthermore, UK law currently provides greater protection for those facing domestic stalking or harassment than those facing stalking or harassment from a non-domestic contact. In Jane’s case, this could mean she was entitled to less protection than her daughter under UK law, as Emma’s case would be considered domestic, and Jane’s would not. Furthermore, pursuing a civil case outside of the criminal courts is hugely costly, with one individual telling Impact that it cost several thousands of pounds for her family to be granted an injunction against a stalker. Outside of the criminal courts, therefore, legal settlements are not a feasible financial option for many victims.
He told us that some of the station computers were decades old, and officers did not have sufficient technological proficiency to support victims
Former Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Paddy Tipping, attempted to confront these systemic issues. Mr Tipping allocated over £80,000 to several local charities combatting stalking in 2019. This enabled the pilot of a Nottinghamshire ‘Stalking Advocacy Service’ by local charities Women’s Aid and Equation, allowing non-domestic stalking victims in Nottingham to access the same kind of support as domestic abuse victims. Impact spoke with Mr Tipping, who told us that the “education of young men” was crucial in tackling issues of “male violence” like stalking. He stressed the need for stalking to “move up the agenda” and stop being viewed as a “frivolous issue” due to the potential for “very serious consequences”.
During his tenure, Mr Tipping believed gender-based violence was best tackled by allocating funding to third sector organisations. Rather than expecting already over-tasked police forces to provide specialist support, he believes funding external organisations provides the “best dividend for police money”. He also raised concerns about police being “behind the curve” when it comes to online stalking. He told us that some of the station computers were decades old, and officers did not have sufficient technological proficiency to support victims. Online stalking is particularly hard to combat, as perpetrators can create fake accounts and anonymous profiles, preventing their identification.
Impact also spoke with representatives of Juno Women’s Aid, the Nottingham-based charity tasked with running the first stalking advocacy service for victims of non-domestic stalking. This service provides everything from bespoke safety plans to guidance navigating both the criminal and civil courts. Their representatives told us that stalking cases can be long-running and complicated, and the police are overwhelmed. They currently have one non-domestic violence stalking advocate but stated that it would require hundreds of staff to provide support for every case. A petition calling for more stalking advocacy services across the country recently received over 100,000 signatures and was debated in UK Parliament. Currently, it appears to be a postcode lottery as to whether you can receive local support, particularly for non-domestic victims.
It is time stalking was pushed up the police agenda and taken more seriously as a precursor to violence
Jane told us she wants practical help, but the services Nottinghamshire police signposted her to either only aided domestic victims or just offered emotional support. Impact have now directed Jane to Juno Women’s Aid non-domestic stalking helpline, but evidently, police should be taking a more victim-led approach. The current process – requiring victims to gather evidence over time to build a case against their stalker – is traumatic and ineffective. Capturing irrefutable evidence of your stalker in the act is near impossible, especially when police consider offences in isolation rather than as part of a larger pattern of behaviour. Stalking laws must change. First, legally defining stalking is crucial if case outcomes are not to be left to the discretion of individual officers. Secondly, greater government funding is needed for more stalking advocates, particularly to support individuals who may be further disadvantaged by a disability or language barrier.
As Mr Tipping said, it is time stalking was pushed up the police agenda and taken more seriously as a precursor to violence. For women like Jane and Emma, forced to live in a state of hypervigilance and failed by a system better at protecting perpetrators than victims, the future is unknown and frightening.
Change cannot come soon enough.
Written by Niamh Robinson
Researched by Impact Investigations team:
Niamh Robinson, Laura Scaife, Ellie Ames, Hannah Walton-Hughes, Lauren McGaun, Poppy Read-Pitt, Emily Vivian, Natasha Saxton, Faith Millington, Tessa Williams, Lana Christon, India Rose Campbell and Sarina Rivlin-Sanders.
With thanks to the University of Nottingham’s Pro Bono Society.
Featured image courtesy of Khachik Simonian via Unsplash. Image licence found here. No changes were made to this image.
In-article image courtesy of Alessio Lala. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
Further resources and support:
You can take action if you are being stalked and call the police on their non-emergency number 101. If you are in immediate danger, however, always call 999.
Juno Women’s Aid Stalking Advocacy Service helpline: 0115 947 6490
Juno Women’s Aid 24-hour helpline: 0808 800 0340
Equation’s Helpline for men: 0115 960 5556