Stalkers face jail under new laws

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The Independent Online
Violent stalkers will face up to five years in prison, and nuisance admirers who cause distress could also be jailed under new laws to be proposed by the Home Office today.

The new anti-stalking measures follow a number of high- profile cases in which women have been mentally terrorised and harassed by obsessive men.

The Home Office is to back a Private Member's Bill containing the measures, which can become law more quickly than government legislation.

The proposals, to be unveiled by David Maclean, the Home Office minister, are expected to include a civil measure which will allow victims to seek an injunction against the person responsible for stalking.

Breaching the injunction would be a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in jail.

The Government is also expected to propose a new criminal offence of intentionally or unintentionally causing people to fear for their safety. It will be an offence whether or not the stalker intended to have this effect. Anyone found guilty of committing such an offence will face a punishment of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.

A third measure is expected to be a new criminal offence of causing harassment and distress, whether or not this was intended. It could be via un- wanted messages or gifts and would carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a pounds 5,000 fine.

The difficulty in convicting a person accused of stalking was illustrated last month after a man who allegedly followed awoman for four years, walked free from court.

Margaret Bent said during a week-long trial that Dennis Chambers had continually pestered her and threatened her with a knife.

Mr Chambers, who has twice been convicted for affray in relation to Ms Bent, defended himself. The jury decided that he had not caused Ms Bent serious psychological harm and was found not guilty of affray and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Later in the month, Judge Butler, sitting at Southwark Crown Court, called for legislation after Clarence Morris was convicted on assault charges for subjecting Perry Southall, 20, to 200 incidents of harassment.

Anne Strahan, project and research manager of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which is holding a conference on stalking today, welcomed the legislation. She said: "The laws which could deal with stalking are inadequate - we share this view with the main opposition parities and the police."

Janet Anderson, Labour's spokesman for women, has urged the Home Secretary to bring in such a reform, after her own Private Member's Bill was rejected by the Government.

She said: "I am pleased to see the Government is going to act on this issue, it is long overdue.

"Providing the bill is reasonable, Labour will do all it can to ensure its speedy passage through the Commons."

At the launch of the consultation paper on stalking in July, Mr Maclean said: "We are determined to introduce laws which provide people with real protection from the menace of stalking."