On 6 January 2017, following a Government U-Turn, it was announced that ministers had caved to pressure from a cross-party campaign to increase protection for victims.

As reported in Hollie Gazzette last September, after years of campaigning, stalking laws were finally brought into force in 2012. The minimum offence for stalking currently carries a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, while a higher offence, involving ‘fear of violence, serious alarm or distress’ carries a maximum of just five years’ imprisonment. If the defendant pleads guilty, this means that the maximum a stalker can ever spend in prison is 20 months. It’s just not enough to protect victims.

Dr Ellie Aston a GP from Cheltenham who lives in Gloucester was stalked for eight years by a former patient before he was charged with the higher offence of stalking and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. Judge Tabor, QC, was frustrated that he couldn’t give her stalker longer and told her to write to her MP. He was sure that the offender was dangerous, and wouldn’t stop in his campaign to hurt her. It was evident to Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham and Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester, alongside others, that changes were desperately needed.

In Hollie Gazzette they wrote: “This isn’t just about the mental health issues that stalkers face, or letting the punishment fit the crime. Nor is it just about rebuilding trust with victims, or giving them time to heal while the stalker is in jail. This is about protecting victims. In the most serious cases it’s about saving lives as well.” It now looks likely that the Bill will become an Act.

Alex Chalk’s and Richard Graham’s words were reiterated earlier this month by fellow campaigner, Laura Richards, Founder and Director of Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service who said: “This law change will allow Judges greater flexibility when sentencing stalkers and provide some respite for victims of stalking. This is about justice, ensuring better protection for victims as well as changing lives and saving lives.”

The campaign against stalking came to realise the very real impact this crime can have on victims and their families. A change in the law has overwhelming support from many working in the field, from academics to law enforcement. In February 2016, the then Justice Minister, Dominic Raab MP, confirmed that the Government was ‘in principle’ supportive of the campaign to increase sentences from five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

‘Light-touch’ sentences do not allow for treatment provision, however, mental health assessments, treatment and risk management are vital for perpetrators in order to help protect victims. The current situation leaves victims vulnerable to further psychological and physical harm. Paladin alongside other campaigners and professionals are now looking forward to working with the Government on the implementation, training and introduction of the sentencing guidelines for stalking.

Dr Aston said: “I am absolutely thrilled that a campaign which began for me 18 months ago has finally led to a significant change in the law which will benefit stalking victims everywhere. When the man who has stalked me for eight years is released from prison later this year, he is highly likely to reoffend, but now there is the prospect of a much longer prison sentence which will give my family and I the peace we need and deserve.”

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