Police have failed to protect women from stalkers, super-complaint claims

Claire Waxman - Eddie Mulholland
Claire Waxman - Eddie Mulholland

Police have been accused of “systemic” failures to protect women from stalkers in a super-complaint by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

The charity – set up after the disappearance of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh in 1986 who was declared dead, presumed murdered, in 1994 – said police forces were putting victims at risk because of “deep-rooted” failures to identify, investigate and prosecute stalkers.

Only five per cent of reports of stalking to police in the year ending March 2022 resulted in a charge by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Police dropped their investigation in 30,000 cases – a quarter of the total – because of “evidential difficulties” even though the victim supported action against the perpetrator.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, founded 36 years ago, is one of 16 organisations that can lodge super-complaints, which mean police watchdogs must now consider whether to launch a national inquiry into the allegations.

Increasing risk of harm

Suky Bhaker, chief executive of the trust, said: “We support thousands of victims every year across our National Stalking Service and a significant number of them tell us that they are being let down by the police and the courts at every step of their journey to justice.

“Failure to identify and investigate stalking at the earliest possible opportunity results in an increasing risk of physical and psychological harm to the victim.

“We hope that the outcome of this super-complaint will result in robust recommendations to improve the police response to stalking across the country which is so vitally needed.”

The trust said police officers often failed to understand the significance of behaviours and treated them as single incidents rather than recognising them as a pattern over time.

It said the crime, introduced as a specific offence 10 years ago, was commonly investigated as a “lower-level” offence such as malicious communications or criminal damage, or was misidentified as harassment, which meant that it was not treated as stalking.

Even when it was identified correctly, flawed investigations meant cases were being wrongly dropped due to a perceived lack of evidence. The impact of unwanted online behaviour such as the use of social media, emails and phone calls was minimised.

Not taken seriously enough

Claire Waxman, Victims Commissioner for London, said: “Too many stalking victims are being let down by the police and wider justice system with stalking behaviours being ignored or minimised, and breaches of restraining orders not taken seriously enough.”

The trust has put in its super-complaint on behalf of a consortium of 21 stalking specialists who have set out a series of recommendations to tackle the problem.

They include specialist training for all officers who deal with such cases, a unified recording system to ensure the “journey” of a victim through the criminal justice system is tracked, and more digital technology to help investigators.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, National Police Chiefs' Council's lead for stalking, said police recognised thee was "more to do to improve" outcomes for victims of stalking and they were working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to do so.

Inquiry given go ahead

Police forces face a national investigation into their “systemic” failures to protect women from stalkers.

In the latest blow to public trust in policing, three watchdogs - the HM inspectors of police, Independent Office for Police Conduct and College of Policing - have agreed to investigate a super-complaint by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust which said police forces have put victims at risk because of “deep-rooted” failures to identify, investigate and prosecute stalkers.