Courts convict 60 stalkers in first year of law

MORE than 60 stalkers have been convicted by the Scottish courts in the first year since legislation was introduced to curb violence against women.

New figures which reveal the extent of the offence also show that more than 400 complaints against stalkers have been investigated by police. In two areas – Lothian and Borders, and Grampian – the number of reported cases of stalking have doubled.

In an indication that police forces are now taking stalking cases more seriously, more than three-quarters of reported cases have resulted in a suspect being charged.

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Sixty-one of those charged have pleaded guilty and a further 124 are awaiting trial.

The figures on the first year of operation of the anti-stalking legislation were obtained under Freedom of Information rules, and campaigners welcomed the number of cases now being successfully prosecuted. Among the incidents recorded, offenders have been shown to turn up at their victims’ work, send unwanted flowers and letters, follow them in the street, call them at home and at work and repeatedly turn up at their home.

A spokeswoman for Scottish Women’s Aid said: “We find any increase in the arrest and prosecution rates in stalking cases to be encouraging, and are pleased to see that the early indications show that arrests are resulting in prosecutions.

“In the past, women have been reluctant to report stalking incidents as they lacked the tangibility of violent behaviour and victims feared that they would not be taken seriously. However, the introduction of the stalking legislation acknowledges the serious impact that stalking has on victims’ lives and, as with all domestic abuse, the potential for escalation in the severity of the behaviour.”

However, Ann Moulds, chairwoman of the Scottish National Stalking Group, who led the campaign to have the crime recognised under Scots law after her own experience as a victim, urged more information to be made available about the potential for stalking to escalate to assault, rape or murder.

“We’ve got the hallmarks of probably one of the best pieces of stalking legislation in the world. What we don’t know is how many rapes, murders or assaults had stalking attached to them,” she said. “Those rapes and murders could have been avoided, without a doubt, if there had been early intervention which nipped the stalking in the bud.”

Moulds cited the case of Clare Bernal, 22, who was killed by Michael Pech, who had stalked her before shooting her dead in the London branch of Harvey Nichols in 2005.

Pech, who turned the gun on himself, was due to appear in court the following week on harassment charges.

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“The Harvey Nichols case had all the warning signs because he stalked her prior to it,” Moulds said. “But police have been missing them and then dealing with rapes or murders.”

Police and prosecutors believe the new stalking law, introduced as part of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, has given them a platform to crack down on behaviour that was previously difficult to curtail.

Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: “The police service in Scotland is fully committed to the protection of the public. There are significant resources used across the eight forces to protect victims of abuse and stalking.

“We have always been supportive of the new legislation and have worked closely with partner agencies on its implementation. There is an awareness, however, that some cases go unreported, so it is a priority for us to reassure people that they will be supported if they find themselves to be victims.”

Livingstone said that procedures are in place to prioritise calls from victims and work closely with other agencies to offer protection and provide safety advice where appropriate.

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