Stalking and harassment are not being investigated by police consistently or effectively, according to a new report.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) claimed police forces were “not protecting victims” from stalkers in its findings.
The watchdog said police forces were not using their powers to search suspects’ homes so stalking investigations are “not as thorough as they could be”.
HMICFRS also raised concerns that there was no single definition for stalking adopted by police forces and government departments. “As a result, police forces are not consistently identifying stalking, and are not protecting victims as a result.”
The HMICFRS inquiry was ordered by the Sussex police and crime commissioner after the murder of 19-year-old Shana Grice.
She had reported her ex-boyfriend Michael Lane to officers five times in six months but was fined for wasting police time. Lane was jailed for 25 years for her murder in March 2017.
Sussex Police officers are now facing disciplinary action following the handling of Ms Grice’s case, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) announced separately.
Two police officers, one of whom has retired, will face gross misconduct proceedings in front of an independent chairman at public hearings next month, Sussex Police confirmed on Tuesday evening.
Another police officer will face internal misconduct proceedings, which are carried out in private. No further action will be taken over five other officers investigated by the IOPC, while six other force employees – three officers and three staff – have already been handed “management advice and further training”.
HMICFRS made a series of recommendations on how improvements could be made by Sussex Police – which records the second highest number of stalking offences in England and Wales – and by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) more widely.
The watchdog’s report said the Sussex force must improve training to help officers respond better to stalking and harassment victims, and improve the risk assessment process to better protect victims from repeat offences.
The report stated: “We are concerned that Sussex Police’s response to victims of stalking or harassment is not always as effective and consistent as it could be. This is because not all officers have received enhanced stalking training.”
It also recommended the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) make sure all forces are making full use of powers to search under stalking laws, and encourage chief constables to review recording of crimes when a restraining order is breached.
Responding to the inspectorate’s report, Carolyn Harris MP, Labour’s shadow minister for safeguarding and vulnerability, said: “The report from the inspectorate is a shocking indictment of the effect of Tory cuts on essential police functions. Stalking is a terrible crime, with lives ruined by mental and physical distress. Women are especially vulnerable.
“These are often complex and challenging cases, and labour-intensive for police officers. What is clear is that repeated Tory cuts to police budgets and their decision to axe 21,000 officers mean they are over-stretched, and some of the most vulnerable are suffering as a result.”
Lucy Hadley, campaigns and public affairs manager at Women’s Aid, said: “Despite some progress being made by police forces, it is concerning that police forces are continuing to fall short when it comes to effectively handle stalking and harassment cases and give the appropriate level of support that survivors desperately need.
“It can be a matter of life or death that the police give the right response in stalking cases. That’s why we urge police leaders to invest in domestic abuse and stalking training, co-delivered by specialists like Women’s Aid, for all staff.”
In the last two years reports of stalking and harassment have increased by more than 40 per cent across England and Wales, HMICFRS said.
Additional reporting by PA