Loopholes that let stalker go free to terrorise victim

Police know that 'Chuck' plays slot machines and visits betting shops
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The Independent Online
The rape of a Cambridgeshire woman by a stalker who plagued her for months is the essence of every woman's nightmare.

Asked yesterday why police had not appealed for information about the stalker before, particularly after the woman was assaulted at Christmas, Detectives Superintendent Tony Rogers, the man leading the hunt for the rapist, said: "We were comfortable in the way we were investigating it."

Women's rights campaigners say the police should not have been "comfortable". They ask why the police did not move to stop the stalker before, when they know so much about him. They know what he looks like, that he uses the nickname Chuck. They know he spends his mornings socialising in local hotels, drinking coffee; that he likes to play slot machines. They know he plays football and drinks beer; he visits betting shops. They even believe he may have some association with singles clubs in the area.

Women Against Rape, a lobby group which offers advice to women under threat, said yesterday there had to be an independent inquiry. A spokeswoman said she was not surprised by what had happened because she claimed police across the country regularly fail to make women's safety a high priority.

In truth, however, the police's powers are limited. A section of the Criminal Justice Act makes it an offence to cause "intentional harassment". Most campaigners say this is totally inadequate compared to legislation in the US, particularly California, where a stalker who harassed the singer Madonna was jailed recently.

In the UK, police are limited to offering the victim varying degrees of protection unless the stalker actually attacks them. Most forces cannot afford to provide round the clock personal protection for anyone except members of the royal family and VIP terrorist targets. Some stalkers have even complained about police harassment or threatened legal action when challenged.

In this most recent case, the police never got the chance to challenge "Chuck". He first saw the woman, a mother in her thirties, in a local hotel where she was having a cup of coffee last September. She rejected his chat-up attempt and not unnaturally thought that that would be the end of the matter.

He switched from threatening behaviour, once punching her, to trying to win her approval. On one occasion he pulled up behind her and offered to help within moments of her car breaking down.

Whatever measures the police took to protect the woman it did not stop her from spotting him on several occasions near her home in Huntingdon.

Nevertheless, Detective Superintendent Rogers was content the police had done all they could: "It is not the time now to have an inquiry into our methods. We took the necessary security measures to try to protect her.

"We were happy with the arrangements and so was she. The only complaint she has made is against the rapist."

A spokeswoman from the anti-stalking campaign Nash, Evonne Von Heussen, said no law or any level of police protection could safeguard a victim. "If someone is hell bent on evil, no one can stop them. Presidents have been shot and killed despite the bodyguards they have surrounding them,' she said.

"Very few people who are stalked by a person who is unknown to them is then raped. It's mainly ex-partners. It is a revenge thing."

Leading article, page 14

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