'I was scared to go out': Stalking victim’s anger as police slow to use new powers
- Credit: Danielle Booden
When Suffolk mum Min Grob was being stalked, her life was a misery.
“I was always looking over my shoulder, constantly living with anxiety and panic,” she says. “I was scared to go out, it made my world smaller.”
The 53-year-old reported her ordeal to the police a few years ago and felt more could have been done to support her.
When her stalker was active, new civil powers allowing forces to impose restrictions on suspected offenders - called Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) - did not exist.
Now a BBC Shared Data Unit investigation has revealed the orders, rolled out in January 2020, are hardly being used - with just 294 granted across England in 15 months.
And a postcode lottery has emerged for using the orders, with Suffolk Constabulary among just four forces that had not applied for a single SPO as of the end of April this year.
Neighbouring Norfolk asked for four in that time, while Essex applied for 12.
Detective Chief Superintendent Eamonn Bridger of Suffolk police said on Monday evening that a small number of SPOs had now been issued in the county.
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He said the force has delivered training to encourage more officers to apply for SPOs, adding that they use several methods to punish perpetrators, including domestic violence protection notices and bail conditions.
They consider SPOs, which require a lower burden of proof than for a criminal conviction, a useful “additional tool” to further protect victims.
It comes as stalking reports almost quadrupled in five years in Suffolk, from 60 incidents in 2015-16 to 233 in 2019-20.
A further 656 incidents were recorded between March and December 2020, however, this rise has been put down to widespread changes in recording offences, with some domestic crimes included from April 2020 onwards.
Min claims police were unable to stop her stalker following her to work. Eventually, she managed to secure a court order.
“I was in a situation where I was at work, and the person stalking me was parked outside the place I worked, kept walking around, I kept seeing them on the road,” she said.
“I was terrified, I would drive everywhere because I was worried I would bump into this person and I didn't know when they would turn up.”
Now a campaigner raising awareness of coercive control, the 53-year-old said she was shocked to hear Suffolk officers had not been using the new powers.
SPOs are designed to help police act quickly and can see suspected stalkers banned from certain locations and social media contact.
“For me, as someone who has experienced stalking, it is hugely concerning,” Min added.
“In an age when there is much greater public awareness about stalking, it is shocking to me that there may not be that same awareness within a public service there to protect people.
“It is not good enough, people deserve to know why these powers are not being used.”
Det Ch Supt Bridger said most stalkers know their victim - they can be ex-partners, acquaintances or friends - and therefore his officers “use a range of methods to bring them to justice”.
He put a rise in reports down to boosted awareness and confidence among victims.
“The civil orders are a useful additional tool that can be used to further protect victims from potential harm as the requirements can be tailored to each individual case,” he said.
“That said, the limited number of SPOs granted is a national issue and it is a complex legal process,” he added.
“Be assured that we take stalking very seriously and urge you to come and talk to us or relevant support groups if you have concerns, as we can help.”
Suky Bhaker, of the stalking charity Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said the BBC data shows support for stalking victims is “far too inconsistent across the UK”.
Clive Ruggles, whose daughter Alice was murdered by her stalker in 2017, added that there was a “desperate need to make things far more consistent across the board”.
Bosses at the Home Office said they expect police forces to make full use of SPOs.
“Next week, Home Office officials will meet with the police and other stakeholders who work to tackle stalking to set out our findings on how effectively police forces have been using SPOs and discuss how to improve this,” they added.
Tim Passmore, Suffolk's police and crime commissioner, said he is reassured that the force is taking reports of stalking and harassment seriously.
"I would urge anyone suffering from persistent and unwanted attention of this kind to contact the police immediately," he added.
"It’s not something that you should have to live with, and it’s important victims know there is help available."
Contact Norfolk and Suffolk Victim Care on 0300 303 3706 and the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300 for advice. Report incidents via 101 or on the force’s website.
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