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Stalking: How the chilling crime is combatted in Cambridgeshire

IMAGINE being home alone, hiding in the darkness. You jump and panic at every noise. You spend each day planning new routes to work, each journey filled with fear. Dread sets in with every phone notification. You are mentally and physically exhausted from a never-ending game of chess. This is the reality for many stalking victims.

When conjuring up an image of a stalker, many would be forgiven for imagining a crazed fan of a celebrity, or an insidious stranger. Sadly, the individual inflicting trauma upon them is often someone they know. It can be a family member, ex-partner or even a co-worker who might bear a grudge.

What is stalking?

In its simplest terms, stalking is a pattern of repeated, unwanted behaviour that causes the victim to feel distressed or frightened. It occurs where the perpetrator has a fixated obsession with the victim. It can consist of any type of behaviour, such as regularly sending flowers, making unwanted or malicious communication, following someone, damaging property and physical or sexual assault. Stalking can also take place online.

Perpetrators have also been known to persistently lodge complaints about the victim to the authorities in the hope to get them in trouble.

The impact of stalking on a victim can be enormous. 78% of stalking victims report symptoms consistent with PTSD. The tragic cases of Alice Ruggles who was murdered by her stalker in 2016 and Justene Reece who committed suicide as a result of the ongoing stalking she was subjected to in 2017 show that there is a very real physical risk to victims too.

Gracie’s law

In January of this year, MPs debated Gracie’s Law which called for police forces to be funded so they can provide advocates to support victims of stalking, and help officers investigate cases more thoroughly. The proposed law, which is spearheaded by the parents of Grace Spinks is named after their daughter, who was thought to have been killed by a former colleague who stalked her in 2021.

A specialist stalking Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA), funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner, has been in post in Cambridgeshire for four years. Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a national charity which specialises in supporting victims of stalking, provided training to the specialist IDVA.

Following a successful bid to the Home Office’s Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Fund the county has also become the fourth area to set up a dedicated multi- agency stalking intervention team.

The trailblazing project brings together the Suzy Lamplugh Trust as project manager, a police officer, the specialist IDVA and a consultant psychologist. The team work together to support and safeguard victims to manage the risk posed by the perpetrator. Working in partnership with colleagues in the Probation Service and local authority the team provide advice and guidance and some cases work directly with the perpetrator to address their behaviour

The team works together with the aim of better supporting victims and securing more prosecutions in stalking cases. Their approach is two pronged, keeping the victim safe and stopping the offending.

Stalking is a complex crime and sometimes victims don’t even realise that is what is happening to them. It is a key priority of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Darryl Preston, to intervene early in cases, prevent offending and provide the victim with quality support.

If you believe you, or someone else, are being stalked you should report it to the police by calling 101 or on the Cambridgeshire Constabulary website. You can also contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.

Darryl Preston also funds a Victim and Witness Hub which provides free emotional and practical support to victims and witnesses of any crime. Regardless of whether they have made a report to the police or not. Anyone wishing to access support can call the freephone advice number on 0800 781 6818.