POLICE need more training in dealing with stalking to ensure successful prosecutions, Scotland’s first national prosecutor for domestic abuse has said.
Anne Marie Hicks, who was appointed last September, has travelled across Scotland talking to sheriffs, victims’ groups and police and has identified a failure to recognise the complexity and seriousness of the offence.
Laws on stalking fall under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act since flagship legislation was introduced three years ago. Figures from a Freedom of Information request reveal that just 462 people out of 1,431 alleged stalking cases were convicted between December 2010 and September last year.
Ms Hicks, who is due to report back with her first tranche of findings in May, said that while it was easy for police to notice a woman had a broken nose, different skills were required to recognise a woman was fearful because of the aggressive intent behind seemingly innocent actions such as texts and gifts.
“One of the interesting things about stalking is that when you look at the behaviour it might not be criminal. A box of chocolates left outside a house. A letter or card,” Ms Hicks said.
It was necessary for prosecutors to recognise the overall pattern and dynamics and “sinister overtures” of these actions, she added.
“It’s the putting it all together and having an appreciation of the bigger picture … that feeling of stealthy pursuit. That’s an area in which I’ve recognised our prosecutors would welcome enhanced guidance.”
Ann Moulds, who launched Campaign Action Against Stalking in March 2009, said: “Stalking carries an implicit threat which is cryptically encoded in gifts and messages. The adversarial justice system doesn’t help.
“Courts aren’t recognising it’s not the behaviours per se, but the impact on the victim which needs greater attention.”
Glasgow East Women’s Aid counsellor Janice Hannaway said: “There needs to be more education in schools about the dynamics of stalking. Sometimes women themselves find it very difficult to see what’s been going on. Because there are no bruises, they think it’s their fault.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government takes domestic abuse in all forms very seriously and we are working closely with our partners across the public and voluntary sectors to tackle it.
“That is why we have increased funding for tackling violence against women by 62 per cent since 2007, and have strengthened the criminal law in recent years.”
A spokesman for Police Scotland said: “All officers on joining Police Scotland receive training at the Scottish Police College. This training involves awareness and the expectations expected as to the investigation of domestic abuse incidents.”
Case study: ‘The defence accused me of being a drama queen’
KAREN Boyle said her police officer ex-boyfriend began stalking her after she ended their relationship.
Worn down by constant texts, calls and even a photo of him crying, she took him back. “It seemed easier to go back into the relationship, to give me time to think about what on earth was going on. It was during this time he raped me,” said Ms Boyle, 44, who lives in Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire.
“The case went to the High Court last year and the judge gave him four years for rape and assault, but the stalking was admonished. If the jury had found him guilty of the most serious section of stalking I think he would have got longer. The public and some in the legal profession don’t understand there are so many elements to stalking. ”
But Ms Boyle, pictured – who is on antidepressants and has not yet felt able to return to work – was “devastated” after the trial, due to the “hostile, aggressive nature” of the defence questioning. “My ex-boyfriend’s defence lawyer nearly destroyed me. She accused me of being a drama queen. I know it was her job to discredit the evidence, but when she couldn’t do that she tore into me. The system is weighted against the victim. The Crown Office lost my victim impact statement so I didn’t get a chance to get that across to the jury,” she said.