16 April 2013

Focus on... awareness of stalking - the law

DC Martin O'Neill
Investigator trainer

Based in Maidstone, West Division  |  Joined Kent Police in 1984

Hi again, hope you’re all having a good day.

I thought it appropriate to start with the specific law that covers stalking offences.

Before 1997 no specific laws existed to protect someone if they were harassed or stalked. Both police and prosecutors had to rely on a few existing laws to try and bring offenders to justice. That meant some offenders were charged with ‘psychological’ assault. When in court, prosecutors had to prove that the assault caused some appreciable psychological harm, which wasn’t always easy.

Many felt that the existing laws did not protect people enough, and as a result the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was passed.

This Act was later criticised because of its tendency to deal with more minor incidents so on 25 November 2012, specific stalking offences were added.

If you want to read more about the legislation itself, there is a link to the Crown Prosecution Service at the end of this blog.

Harassment covers two separate offences:

•    'causing alarm or distress'
•    'putting people in fear of violence'.

These offences are subject to a course of conduct, which simply means there must have been at least two incidents. If there haven’t been two or more incidents already, police can consider using, where appropriate, existing offences and/or a warning to the offender. 

Harassment can mean an unwelcome verbal or written communication, sexual harassment, racially/religiously aggravated harassment, psychological harassment, threats and damage to property.

The new stalking offences sit on top of the two harassment offences I’ve just mentioned. Th
e Act now lists the following, although not exhaustive, as a number of behaviours associated with stalking:

•    following a person
•    contacting or attempting to contact by any means
•    publishing material relating to the victim or seemingly by the victim
•    loitering in any place
•    interfering with any property in possession of someone
•    watching or spying on a person
•    monitoring that person using electronic communication

Importantly, the new section creates TWO offences relating to stalking. Where stalking which by its nature causes the victim to fear violence and; when stalking causes someone serious alarm or distress that has a substantial effect on their day-to-day lives, for example changing jobs, changing routines, moving house and so on. 

Last month Kent Police saw its first successful conviction under the new laws. A 28-year-old man from Dymchurch was jailed for 51 weeks and given a five year restraining order. The investigating officer said after the trial: ‘This man’s victim had reached the stage where she was terrified at what he would do next.’

Thankfully the new legislation helped end the ordeal for his victim.

Tomorrow I’ll be providing some advice if you think you may be the victim of a stalker.

Goodbye for now.


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