Stalkers to be targeted with new laws

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The Independent Online
The Home Office is considering new anti-stalking laws, it emerged yesterday. The move comes as detectives hunting a stalker who raped a woman in her home while she was under police protection announced they were investigating more than 80 new leads.

Since last year Home Office officials have been examining possible ways of toughening up Britain's existing laws on stalking. They are looking at the laws in the United States, Canada, and Australia. They have also been in discussion with British police forces. A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We are looking to see what we can learn from abroad, we have also been taking to the police and other interested groups."

In the US, the laws on stalking vary from state to state. In California, the maximum sentence is one year or $1,000, which is increased to four years maximum if a court order has been made or if it is a second offence. In some states, the prosecution does not have to prove criminal intent, it just has to show that a reasonable person would view the behaviour of the accused as threatening.

In Britain, police powers are limited. Under the Criminal Justice Act, it is an offence to cause "intentional harassment".

Meanwhile, women in Huntingdon, close to where the latest incident of stalking took place, criticised the police response as "too little, too late". Some expressed concern for their own safety and claimed not enough was being done to protect the victim, as stalking was seen as "a woman's problem".

Detectives received a number of calls from people who thought they knew the identity of the man who attacked the mother-of-three after stalking her for four months. He had already accosted her twice before raping her in a "depraved and violent" ordeal two weeks ago. "We are still considering him to be a very dangerous man and we don't know if he has attacked before or whether he will attack again," a spokeswoman said.

As the victim continued to give evidence to police yesterday, they again defended their use of technical equipment to protect her rather than providing a physical guard. They refused to comment on claims that the attacker damaged a video camera installed to trap him but confirmed they had given the woman a camera, as part of a package of security measures.

"The only people who know the full circumstances concerning this incident are the woman and the police," said the spokeswoman, adding that the victim "had not complained" about the assistance she had received from the police.

Ruth Hall, a spokeswoman for Women Against Rape a lobby group which offers support to women under threat, said the victim, who is understood to live just outside Huntingdon, was not the first to be attacked while under police protection.