Why are the police so bad at investigating stalking?

Philip Grindell
Written by Philip Grindell
Lady sat at desk with headphones looking pensive

Stalking can be one of the most invasive and dangerous offences, and yet it continues to be one the most poorly investigated.

According to a recently published report 82 per cent of stalking reports were initially treated as non-stalking offences between July 2015 and March 2023. They were later revised to stalking offences. These statistics are hugely worrying and mark a significant failure for the dedicated Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (STAC) set up in 2018 to reduce reoffending in stalkers and improve outcomes for victims. One of STAC’s roles is to provide advice to Police Officers investigating stalking allegations.

My own personal experience of investigating stalking cases as a Met police officer and now as an advisor working with prominent people who have been subject to stalking investigations by the Met has been extremely poor, at time bordering on amateurish.
The failure is at multiple layers. The lack of training for initial response officers, investigators, and supervisors, including those on the STAC is a critical factor. Whilst this report and the associated data related to the Metropolitan Police, this is a national failing. In 2022, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on behalf of the National Stalking Consortium, launches a super-complaint against the police finding systemic issues in the response to stalking across England and Wales.

When I set up the new Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team (PLaIT) following the murder of Jo Cox MP, there was no suitable training on stalking, so I worked with The Suzy Lamplugh Trust to come and deliver a bespoke course for the entire team.

In truth the failings start with the legislation. In 2012 a specific offence of stalking was added to the Protection of Harassment Act 2012. The problem with this is that stalking has never been defined, and consistently refers to harassment, which can cause confusion. The legislation needs a full review with an agreed definition. We should stop using the term Cyber Stalking, which infers a separate often lesser category of stalking, pretty much all stalking includes elements of cyber enabled behaviours and therefore the term is of no value.

A good definition of stalking is ‘A pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.’
The police are comfortable when dealing with offences where violence is present but are more challenged where the harm is psychological.

Too often, a junior untrained officer is assigned the allegation to investigate. My experience, victims have been left unimpressed when the officer investigating fails to make contact, is changed, causing a lack of continuity or simple not competent to investigate and recognise or record the risks in such a potentially dangerous offence.

Dreadfully poor investigations have been referred to the Stalking Threat Assessment Centre (STAC), with a complaint made by one the world’s leading stalking experts, only for them to sign the investigation of as satisfactory. In that case the police officer told the complainant to apply for a stalking protection order themselves, when that is the very clearly the responsibility of the Police and the CPS.

There are at least 5 types of stalkers. An apparent lack of understanding of these different types of stalkers and the different risks each poses can have a catastrophic impact. This understanding should be a critical step in any investigation.

The 5 Types of Stalkers
‘Study of Stalkers‘ (1999) Mullen, Pathe, Purcell and Stuart identified there to be 5 types of stalkers, each driven by a differing motivation.

  • the Rejected Stalker commences stalking after the breakdown of an important relationship that was usually, but not always, sexually intimate in nature. In this group the stalking reflects a desire for reconciliation, revenge, or a fluctuating mixture of both; This is common among domestic relationships and has resulted in a number of well publicised murders.
  • the Intimacy Seeker desires a relationship with someone who has engaged his or her affection and who, he or she is convinced, already does, or will, reciprocate that love despite obvious evidence to the contrary; this is common among celebrities and are usually strangers to the stalker who believes they know and love.
  • the Incompetent Suitor also engages in stalking to establish a relationship. However, unlike the Intimacy Seeker, he or she is simply seeking a date or a sexual encounter; Their behaviour is driven by loneliness or lust and targets strangers or acquaintances.
  • the Resentful Stalker sets out to frighten and distress the victim to exact revenge for an actual or supposed injury. Resentful are differentiated from Rejected Stalkers in that the cause of their resentment does not lie in rejection from an intimate relationship. They feel as though they have been mistreated or that they are the victim of some form of injustice or humiliation.
  • the Predatory Stalker engages in pursuit behaviour in order to obtain sexual gratification. Stalking is foreplay; the real goal is sexual assault. The stalking may have a sadistic quality to it. For example, some predatory stalkers mess with their victim’s minds by leaving subtle clues that they are being followed without revealing their identity.

A recent case referred to Defuse involves a well known actress who has been subject to a campaign of stalking for a number of years. The allegation was reported to the Met Police some time ago. The actress has had no contact from the investigating officer for several months, with a separate allegation made against the same suspect also receiving a similarly poor response. Not only does this create a huge risk to the person being stalked, but it also undermines the confidence in the Police as a time when trust by women is at an all time low.

A further challenge is the Crown Prosecution Service reducing stalking allegations to harassment for the purposes of a guilty plea. This is a critical mistake. Firstly, whilst harassment and stalking fall under the same legislation, the associated risks are very different. Secondly, when a stalker accepts a charge of harassment the true reflection of their behaviour is not recorded, and this impacts any future research and risks assessment completed when they re-offend.

So, what do you do when the Police fail to properly investigate allegations of stalking, or they CPS fail to prosecute the correct offence?

In the case of the police investigation, and I hate saying this a former officer, a formal complaint should be made. One of the reasons for this is the response to your complaint will be formal and in writing. I would also ask for a copy of the written risk assessment.
If you feel that you are not being listened to, approach an advocate service such as The Suzy Lamplugh Trust to represent and support you.

In a podcast I recorded with my friend Suky Bhaker, the CEO of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, she provided details of some truly shocking statistics in which those victims who had the assistance of an advocate had a significantly better experience than those who did not. Every victim of stalking who reports their concerns to the police should have an advocate.

Five top tips for those are subject to stalking:

  1. Record everything the stalker does, says or threatens and include how that made you feel together with any changes in your behaviour.
  2. Share your experiences with a friend, family and or a colleague.
  3. Employ the services of an advocate.
  4. Report the stalking to the Police, and where that service is below the acceptable standard, complain to a Superintendent.
  5. If you are unhappy to the charges brought by the Police or by the CPS, you have the right to appeal the decision made.

For further enquiries email us at: [email protected] or call +44 (0) 207 293 0932

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