Anti-stalker Bill clears first hurdle

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The Independent Online
A Bill to make stalking a specific offence passed its first Commons hurdle unchallenged last night. The Labour MP Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen) told the House: "British women who have been stalked are frustrated by the inadequacy of British law. And while the targets of obsession go on suffering, police officers are frustrated and angry with the absence of a specific offence of stalking."

The introduction by Mrs Anderson of her Stalking Bill follows the jailing this week for three years at Reading Crown Court of Anthony Burstow for grievous bodily harm against Tracey Sant.

David Maclean, Minister of State at the Home Office, was reported yesterday as saying he would consider strengthening police powers against stalkers.

Mrs Anderson said Mrs Sant, 28, suffered a three-year hate campaign at the hands of Burstow, 36. "Burstow's obsessive campaign has left an indelible mark against her health and her life." She said the police sergeant involved in the case had called for action to make it easier to prosecute stalkers and the Police Federation was set to urge the Government to introduce new laws.

Mrs Anderson also cited the case of a constituent of Labour's Bridget Prentice (Lewisham East). "She was subjected to an eight-year ordeal she describes as psychological torture. She still lives in fear of the man who has forced her to change her identity, destroyed her family and driven her to move house. She has attempted to commit suicide four times."

Later Ms Prentice said the case had not gone to court because of reluctance by the Crown Prosecution Authority to use psychological damage as a basis. Ms Prentice said she was to meet police next week to discuss whether the Burstow case might pave the way for action.

In the Commons, Mrs Anderson said it was wrong to think only celebrities and royals suffered from stalkers. Most cases went unreported and only victims who could afford to or who were entitled to Legal Aid could resort to civil law. "Even then, an injunction is often not worth the paper it's written on." The police were sympathetic but could do little: "Stalkers know this and when they are convicted of offences such as breach of the peace ... they learn to keep just within the law."

Mrs Anderson urged the Government to follow the example of Canada, the United States and Australia and make stalking a crime.