Weightmans and Sussex Police protect victims of stalking with new SPOs
Lawyers at Weightmans have been helping police in Sussex lead the way in enforcing a new law aimed at helping victims of stalking.
Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) came into effect on 20 January and Sussex Police, which was the first force the country to obtain an order that day, has now worked with Weightmans to secure 23 in the first six months, as an additional tool in responding to reports of stalking.
Subjects of the orders will be prohibited from contacting, by any means, directly or indirectly, the named person on the Order. This includes but is not limited to contact in person, calls, letters, emails, messages and social media.
They can also be prohibited from publishing any material, or making reference to any material already published, which references, refers or relates to the victim either directly or indirectly and even from entering into an agreed exclusion zone, be that an area within the town or county. This would include where the victim works and usual routes taken for example when walking children to school.
Some of the positive requirements include allowing officers access to the home address for the purposes of conducting risk assessments, having to re-register their home address every year, or if of no fixed address, having to attend a police station every week. There are further conditions that can be considered depending on the nature of the stalking behaviour.
However an Order is not an alternative to prosecution for stalking offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, and it can be used to strengthen prosecutions as well as safeguarding victims. Any breach of an Order is itself a criminal offence punishable by Magistrates by up to 12 months or a fine or both, or at Crown Court with imprisonment for up to five years or a fine or both.
The response from victims has been positive. One told police;
"Getting an SPO has help me hugely to make sense of what is going on for me and has given me hope that the system will work, thank you to all those supporting me, a burden shared has certainly being a burden halved. it is really reassuring that something is in place that protects me and my family."
Weightmans was the firm that assisted Sussex Police with the first successful application in January. Associate Louise Ravenscroft leads the team of experts who are working with Sussex and other police forces to secure these orders and keep people safe.
“Stalking Protection Orders have proven to be a useful tool in dealing with incidents of stalking and keeping victims safe.
“We have been working with Sussex and other police forces across the UK to ensure they are able to use all powers available to effectively respond to reports of stalking and harassment.
“It is imperative that forces are aware of this invaluable weapon in their armoury and are using it as a mechanism for protecting victims from unwanted and potentially life-threatening behaviour.”
Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards of the force's Public Protection Command, said;
"These new Orders, which we seek from Magistrates, are an important development in helping us to better protect victims or anyone connected with them, in stalking cases.
"This new resource really helps us to protect victims. In Sussex we are already recording the second highest number of stalking reports anywhere in the UK outside London, and are now advising and supporting more victims than ever.
"With better awareness and enhanced training our approach is more robust in keeping people safe and feeling safe. We encourage victims to come forward with the knowledge that our officers and staff are better trained and that they take all reports seriously.
"We are absolutely aware of the consequences if our response is not the correct one, so we want to ensure that victims have confidence in how both police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will support them.
"There is clearly an increased awareness and identification in society generally of stalking behaviour and that too helps us to provide early intervention and provide safeguarding to those in need.
"The force has independent advice on our response to stalking and harassment, from partners such as Veritas Justice, and this has improved our understanding of stalking as well as its impact on victims. We regularly review our response to ensure we have taken the right action and to identify learning for our staff."
If you are affected by the issues raised in this article please report stalking or harassment by calling 101 or in person at your local police station. Always call 999 if you are in danger. If you would like further information about stalking or harassment, please contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.
Stalking Protection Orders came into effect on 20 January 2020
Weightmans have assisted Sussex Police in securing 23 orders in the first six months
SPOs are a useful tool for protecting victims of stalking and harassment