Judge says stalking should be a criminal offence

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The Independent Online
A barrister who claimed that a dental nurse terrified by a stalker liked the attention of men and had behaved like a "queen bee that dresses to kill" was reported to the Bar Council yesterday. The lawyer was also rebuked by the trial judge, who called for a law making stalking a criminal offence.

Perry Southall, 20, endured an eight-month campaign of terror by Clarence Morris, a convicted rapist, who was found guilty at Southwark Crown Court, south London, of two charges of assault. "I feared for my life, I was petrified," Ms Southall told the court.

Judge Gerald Butler called for an immediate change in the law, and branded Morris a "very dangerous man". He adjourned sentence until 22 October. He said he was considering detention in a secure mental hospital for Morris, who had subjected Ms Southall to 200 incidents of harassment, including twice threatening her with a blade-edged wallpaper scraper.

He had also showered her with gifts, thrown items of women's underwear into the east London dental practice where she worked, and plagued her with 35 letters declaring his love for her.

The six-man, six-woman jury agreed with the prosecution that the campaign amounted to actual bodily harm because it had psychologically damaged Ms Southall to such an extent that it was equivalent to physical injury. Morris was also convicted of common assault.

The case was as noteworthy for the description of Ms Southall by the barrister David Stanton, which prompted Julie Bindel, of the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women's Citizenship to complain to the Bar Council, the barristers' regulatory body.

In his closing speech in defence of Morris, who has a criminal record for offences including rape, Mr Stanton told the jury that Ms Southall, who wore a leather outfit to court and had long blonde hair, knew she was attractive, liked the attention of men and encouraged her resemblance to Pamela Anderson, the "over-exposed, sexually active" actress in the Baywatch television series.

Women who portrayed themselves in that way "ran the risk ... of being on the unwelcome end of male attraction", he said.

"Is it fair that a young lady who dresses to attract, the queen bee that dresses to kill ... cries out foul because somebody finds her attractive?"

Judge Butler suggested that the jury might think the remarks were "nothing more than an insult to Ms Southall". After the verdict, he said he could not let pass unchallenged Mr Stanton's observations "about women in general and Ms Southall in particular, presenting themselves in a manner designed to attract men and what they must expect as a result".

"May I publicly and entirely dissociate myself from your comments as to that which I believe ought never to have been made."

Ms Bindel said Mr Stanton's comments encouraged "a licence to rape, harass and assault any woman who dresses in a way some have decided is seductive or flirtatious".

"Women have the right to dress however they wish and it should not be seen as an open invitation to harassment."