Recently I attended an event at the Houses of Parliament to launch the start of a campaign to increase the maximum sentence possible in relation to the criminal offence of stalking.
Currently the maximum sentence is set at 5 years however a number of recent cases have highlighted that this does not adequately reflect the seriousness and criminality of many cases of Stalking.
The case of Paladin ambassador Dr Eleanor Ashton is a case in point. Dr Ashton was stalked by patient Raymond Knight for 7 years. Knight visited her home and surgery over 100 times causing criminal damage, graffiti, posting offensive packages to her and even turning up at her children’s birthday parties. Her stalker repeatedly broke the terms of several restraining orders terrorising Dr Ashton and her family despite having already served several prison sentences for his behaviour. Upon release after one such sentence Knight immediately sent Dr Ashton the chilling message “Guess who’s back? I’m back”.
On sentencing Dr Ashton’s stalker in 2015 the Judge HHJ Tabor QC stated that he was frustrated that he had not been able to impose a sentence of more than 5 years as he felt that the perpetrator posed a significant risk and could cause her serious harm in the future even though he was excluded from 9 Counties by the restraining order.
A report compiled by two MPs Alex Chalk and Richard Graham quoted a Paladin investigation which revealed that 42% of those convicted and given a restraining order went on to re-offend which is no surprise given that stalking is characterised by obsession and fixation. Stalking is about humans hunting humans.
Increasing the maximum sentence in relation to the s4A stalking offence will also mean that stalking rather than harassment is more likely to be charged in serious cases. A criminal conviction for harassment does not reflect the dangerous nature of the behaviour as harassment often brings to mind a neighbour dispute over a hedge.
A conviction for stalking however demonstrates a far more obsessive and dangerous set of behaviours that require monitoring and treatment. Paladin would therefore like to see the increase in sentencing together with the introduction of the serial perpetrators register and order which would place positive obligations on stalkers and ensure that they can be monitored in a similar way to sex-offenders.