THOUSANDS of stalking cases a year are reported to North East police forces – but new powers to stop stalkers are rarely being used, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Just seven Stalking Protection Orders were granted to the region’s forces in a year, despite nearly 20,000 crimes being recorded in 2020-21 alone.

As part of the Stalking Act 2019, SPOs were introduced in January 2020 to allow police to intervene and stop stalking behaviours at the earliest possible stage.

SPECIAL REPORT: The worrying figures behind stalking in North East

However, in the first year of their use – between January 2020 and February 2021 – Durham Constabulary did not apply for a single order, though it has applied for two since.

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Government figures show Cleveland Police applied for fewer than five as did North Yorkshire Police, while Northumbria Police requested nine.

In that period, seven full orders were issued across the region, along with 18 interim orders.

Across England and Wales, 409 SPOs were applied for and 189 issued during that year.

One application could result in more than one order being issued.

Read more: Stalker made ex-partner's life a 'misery'

Following a recent review into their use, the Government published recommendations aiming to raise awareness of the orders and encourage increased use and understanding among police forces.

The Northern Echo: Picture: NORTHERN ECHOPicture: NORTHERN ECHO

What do the orders actually do?

SPOs commonly see stalkers banned from contacting their victims, prevented from visiting certain locations and being required to provide police with access to their electronic devices and social media accounts.

While the orders are civil, those who breach the requirements could face criminal action.

The National Stalking Consortium welcomed the introduction of SPOs, saying it represented a welcome and much-needed change for victims.

However, in response to the review, members – which include anti-stalking charity The Suzi Lamplugh Trust – raised concerns around their use and delays to the process as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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They highlighted national examples of requests being declined due to not meeting the legal threshold for stalking, officers not responding to breaches quickly enough and forces advising victims to apply for alternative orders – such as non-molestation orders – instead.

Read more: Alice Ruggles Trust works with NHS to tackle stalking

The Consortium said it was deeply disappointed over cases refused due to the legal threshold not being met, given the scope of SPOs allows for intervention prior to that point.

They said some victims were left feeling not believed or supported as a result.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said SPOs worked well in general and provided a much-needed option for addressing stalking behaviours for victims.

However, the review highlighted a sometimes slow application process, long waits for court dates and examples of courts using other measures and orders in response to stalking cases instead of SPOs.

Police officers told the review that more training was required across the criminal justice system, with some saying managing the process could be time consuming.

North East police forces respond

The Northern Echo: Picture: NORTHERN ECHOPicture: NORTHERN ECHO

A spokesman for North Yorkshire Police said the force was working to increase its use of SPOs and that it also used more established orders, such as restraining and non-molestation orders, to tackle stalking cases.

Superintendent Richie Allen, from Durham Constabulary, said the force employed a wide range of tactics to tackle the “extremely distressing” crime and trained staff to identify stalking and provide early intervention.

Durham officers are also working to educate schoolchildren about stalking, controlling and coercive behaviour.

The National Police Chiefs' Council lead for stalking and harassment, Deputy Chief Constable Paul Mills, said the police service is committed to doing "everything possible" to bring offenders to justice.


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