Police warnings to stalkers are putting victims at risk

As reprimands alert abusers to complaints, MPs and charities express shock at violent retribution

Police are misusing a little-known official warning designed to deal with allegations of harassment and stalking, MPs have warned. Police Information Notices (PINs) are being used inappropriately in many cases, without risk assessment of their impact or sufficient investigative work, the Home Affairs select committee said.

The use of the warnings was also condemned yesterday by campaigners who said they place victims at greater risk. “Stalking victims go to the police because they want what’s happening to stop,” said Jane Harvey, director of Network For Surviving Stalking. “However if a police officer deals with the situation by issuing a PIN, it may well put the victim at further risk. What’s more worrying is that the victim may well be ignorant about this increase in risk. Stalkers are effectively being told, ‘We’re not going to do anything about what you’ve done so far – you’ve got away with it,’” she said.

The select committee heard that improper use of PINs, sometimes known as harassment warnings, was a possible factor in cases where victims of stalking or harassment were murdered. Greater Manchester Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan told the MPs: “Some cases that resulted in the victim being killed had followed the inappropriate use of PINs.

“I think I have to accept there have been tragic cases whereby, sadly, people have lost their lives, and in the run-up to that, Police Information Notices have been used, in my view inappropriately,” he said. “There is too much use being made of Police Information Notices, and on some occasions, if it is not done with appropriate risk assessment, it can lead to more harm than good.”

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Michael Brown's daughter Clare was murdered by her ex boyfriend in 2009 (PA)

Thousands of PINs are issued each year, but “there is a clear danger they may be used inappropriately if they are not done in conjunction with good risk assessment and sufficient investigation,” warns the report, published today. MPs recommend the Home Office “collate and publish annual data about the number of PINs issued, including the number of cases in which repeat victimisation was reported following the issuing of a PIN, and the number of prosecutions that followed.” Further training for officers was “vital”, they said.

Laura Richards, chief executive of anti-stalking organisation Paladin, said: “There have been too many cases where an effective police investigation has not taken place, the stalking and fixation has been missed along with the risk assessment and risk management.”

She said that the murder of Deborah Longmead, a mother of two, was a “clear example of the inappropriate use of a PIN”. A notice was issued to her estranged husband just before he stabbed her to death, along with her friend Donna St John in August 2010.

In another case, Clare Wood was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend in 2009, weeks after he had been warned by police for harassing her. Police failings in her case prompted the adoption of Clare’s Law last year, under which people can find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

The College of Policing said: “The effectiveness and evidence base for PINs is currently under review.”