Thames Valley Police fail to use new anti-stalking powers

Police have applied for “a number” of stalking prevention orders after an investigation revealed the service had not applied for any despite more than 1,000 stalking complaints from residents.

A probe by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit revealed Thames Valley Police failed to issue a single Stalking Prevention Order since the civil power was introduced in January 2020.

From April 2020 to December 2020, TVP recorded 1,681 stalking incidents.

But in this time, the force failed to even apply for an SPO — which imposes restrictions on suspected stalkers — let alone grant one.

Clive Ruggles, whose daughter Alice Ruggles was murdered by her stalker in 2017, said: “If another Alice came to the police today, would the outcome be different?

“SPOs could have helped Alice – we’re absolutely convinced of that. But now it just seems like a postcode lottery. We haven’t learned.
“That is personally distressing for us. We have to make this better.”
A spokesperson for Thames Valley Police said the service takes reports of stalking “extremely seriously”and is “committed to helping victims as well as preventing those who carry out this sort of offence”.

They added: “The use of Stalking Prevention Orders is just one of a number of tactics that officers can use when they are combatting this sort of offence.

“Since responding to the original FOI request, Thames Valley Police has applied for a number of SPOs, one of which has been granted, with a number of others currently being processed.”

What are SPOs?

Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) are a new civil power available to police which 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.

They usually remain in place for two years and can be used to ban people from certain locations, contacting the complainant, physically approaching the victim and more.

Since SPOs became available to police forces in England and Wales in January 2020, only 294 orders have been granted.

More than 55,000 stalking incidents have been recorded by police in the nine months to December 2020.

Suky Bhaker, CEO of stalking charity the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “The numbers are incredibly concerning.

“We know through one of our own surveys that 60% of victims are unsatisfied with the police response with the criminal justice response.

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

A spokesperson for the Home Office said officials will meet with police to discuss how effective police have been in issuing SPOs.

They added: “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.”

What does the data for stalking incidents in the Thames Valley show?

From 2015 to December 2020, 3,132 stalking incidents have been recorded in the Thames Valley area.

Only 55 were recorded in 2015 but 1,681 were recorded in the eight months from April to December 2020.

That’s an increase of more than 2,900 per cent.

Despite ranking 15th from 42 police forces for a number of stalking incidents recorded from April to December 2020, Thames Valley Police did not apply for a single SPO — one of only four forces not to do so.

A Thames Valley Police spokesperson added: “We have also created new guidance and training for officers and staff responding to and investigating stalking, around obtaining Stalking Protection Orders.

“This has seen an increase in processes that have started the legislative route to obtain a SPO.

“However, there are a number of other ways in which we combat this offence including restraining orders, Domestic Violence Protection Orders and non-molestation orders if appropriate for the circumstances.

“Victim support and safeguarding by working alongside partnership agencies is also essential to reduce the risk of harm as much as possible.

“Thames Valley Police will continue to do everything possible to combat this sort of offence, and to protect the safety of victims.”

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