Stalking worries millions

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The fear of stalking grips one in seven people in the country, according to a poll which is published today.

Millions of people across Britain feel personally threatened by constant pestering and a quarter of the population under the age of 35 said they knew someone who had been a victim of stalking or "persistent pestering", either face-to-face or on the telephone.

The NOP survey followed claims by Diana, Princess of Wales, that she was the victim of media intrusion after being at the centre of a street scuffle outside a west London gym.

The Princess said she had been harassed by a photographer and called for privacy following the row.

The NOP study indicated the problem affected more people than celebrities. The survey of more than 1,000 men and women aged over 15 showed 19 per cent of people from the South felt personally threatened, compared with 12 per cent in the North. More than twice as many women than men said they had faced threatening behaviour of some kind.

The poll showed 17 per cent of people aged between 35 and 54 said they felt threatened by a stalker, compared with 11 per cent aged over 55.

According to NOP's consumer research director, Tony Lees: "In the South there is a much more cosmopolitan atmosphere and people come and go more. There is less of a strong sense of togetherness and community in large cities.

"Maybe there is an element that in the South people are prepared to talk about it more," he said.

Mr Lees believes it could be some time before the new Protection from Harassment Act, introduced last December, had any effect on the problem.

The measure was proposed to deal with stalkers but has been widened to encompass all forms of harassment.