Labour to make 'stalking' a crime

Click to follow
Plans to make stalking a criminal offence carrying a prison sentence of up to four years are being considered by Labour, it emerged last night.

In the wake of the recent case where a man stalked then raped his victim in her own home in Cambridgeshire, the party is examining ways to give more protection to those who suffer persistent harassment.

Jack Straw, the shadow Home Secretary, and Tessa Jowell, Labour's spokeswoman on women's issues, have studied laws in California and in Canada, where legislation already cracks down on such offenders, to prepare proposals which are to be announced in the run-up to International Women's Day next Friday.

Ms Jowell said last night that one option would be a form of "stalking prevention order". A victim could apply to the courts for an order specifying unreasonable behaviour which must stop. Any further harassment would be in breach of the order and become a criminal offence.

Labour is also looking to extend the current definition of stalking, to include intimidating behaviour such as making malicious telephone calls and sending threatening letters.

Under existing laws, stalking is not a crime and police are helpless to intervene unless the stalker resorts to threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour. Detectives also have to prove that the stalker acted with intent to cause harassment and alarm.

Ms Jowell, who was herself the victim of a stalker 20 years ago, said last night: "Women are overwhelmingly the victims of this much under-reported crime. Their lives are ruined by it and we have to do something to protect them."

She said she had received many letters from people whose lives had been "made hell" by stalkers since she first raised the problem. Celebrity victims include Princess Anne and Helena Bonham-Carter, the actress.