A report into harassment and stalking shows it is ‘vital that stalking victims are taken seriously’, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has said.
Sussex PCC Katy Bourne responded to a national report, which concluded that victims of harassment and stalking were being left at risk by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
She revealed that last year, there were 216 stalking crimes in Sussex, but said this was ‘just the tip of the iceberg’.
The report comes just months after Sussex Police came in for criticism over its handling of the Shana Grice case; where the 19-year-old from Mile Oak was murdered by her stalker ex-boyfriend in August 2016.
Earlier this year, Michael Lane, 27, of Portslade was found guilty of the murder, and was handed a 25-year sentence.
In court, the jury heard how Miss Grice first contacted police in February 2016 to report that she was being stalked by Lane. But she was later fined for wasting police time’ after failing to disclose she was in an on-off relationship’ with Lane.
Sussex Police was investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) over the case, and the force was given six learning recommendations to improve the way the it handles cases involving stalking and harassment.
Sussex Police has now responded to the report into stalking and harassment, published today (July 5) by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI).
The report said: “People who have suffered repeated harassment or stalking are frequently being let down by under-recording, inconsistent services and a lack of understanding by the criminal justice system.”
Mrs Bourne, Sussex PCC, said: “As the report shows, it is vitally important that officers and staff take victims seriously and recognise the individual actions which can form a dangerous pattern over time.
“The findings from this report are concerning but I am confident that Sussex Police has taken a number of steps already to improve the way it handles reports of stalking and harassment.”
She added that ‘it’s clear that victims are being let down’.
Mrs Bourne said: “I want to personally reassure victims that, if they report crimes of stalking or harassment to Sussex Police or to other organisations, they will be believed and the force will work as hard as they can to hold perpetrators to account.”
Mrs Bourne said she had commissioned an independent inspection for later this year to look at whether Sussex Police’s plan ‘has made the positive improvements promised’.
On the work that has been done so far, Sussex Police Detective Superintendent Jason Tingley said: “We have improved our understanding of what stalking and harassment is and what our response should be. This is being reinforced force wide through sharing of guidance, training and reviewing stalking cases. We are absolutely aware of the consequences if our response is not the correct one, so we need to ensure that victims have confidence in how both police and the CPS will support them.
“We were one of the six forces who gave the HMIC full access to our work and although it contains no specific recommendations for Sussex Police alone, we will use it to further review and refine our systems and training, including the way in which we work with the CPS.
“HMIC are also carrying out a detailed inspection of our response to stalking and harassment later this year. We welcome this and will be giving the fullest co-operation.”
He said the force was also working with organisations supporting stalking victims, such as Veritas Justice and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which ‘gave us invaluable feedback on our policy’, and with Paladin, a national organisation which supports high risk victims of stalking, which has trained a number of officers in Sussex who will have an extra level of specialism in this area.
Sussex Police said to report stalking or harassment, always call 999 if you are in danger; call 101 if the incident happened some time ago; speak to a person at your local police station; or report online.