Tough new measures pledged over stalkers

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The Independent Online
Headteachers or the police could be given the right to take out injunctions against suspicious people found loitering near schools under proposals to toughen penalties on stalkers announced by the Government yesterday.

The suggestion came as David Maclean, the Home Office minister, pledged to legislate for three new legal measures to curb stalking in the next session of Parliament.

A consultation paper proposes a new civil injunction, breach of which would be a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in jail; a higher level criminal offence for activity causing people to fear for their safety, carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison, an unlimited fine or both; and a lower level criminal offence of causing harassment, alarm and distress, with a maximum penalty of six months prison, a pounds 5,000 fine or both.

But Mr Maclean said the proposed new civil measure could also be extended from the classic stalking situation to "third party" injunctions brought by the police or "possibly, in the light of recent events, a headmaster could take out an injunction against someone hanging around the school playground."

The move is geared to situations where the activities of stalkers or other potential offenders have not yet threatened any victims and of which victims are oblivious. "But there may be instances where the police fear that such a course of conduct may, unless brought to an end, lead on to actual harm to the victim," the document says.

The Government is seeking views by 9 September on this and the proposed offences, and whether the suggested defences are wide enough to ensure that people are not penalised for otherwise lawful activity.

The new laws would go beyond existing civil and criminal remedies by covering the activities of work colleagues and friends and neighbours as well as strangers, and by catching seemingly innocuous behaviour such as persistently sending unwanted flowers or following someone.

In a rare exception to the normal rule in criminal law, convictions for the proposed new offences would not depend on proving that the stalker intended to cause distress, because of the difficulty in proving intent where harassment takes the form of unsolicited "gifts".