Commissioner calls for police to offer greater support for victims of stalking

Stalking victims are consistently being failed because of a “widespread failure to recognise” it, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales has said.

Dame Vera Baird (pictured) said those at risk need to have confidence in police officers when reporting incidents.

Her comments come a day after former Sussex Police constable Trevor Godfrey was found to have committed misconduct in March 2016 when he accused 19-year-old Shana Grice – who reported her former boyfriend Michael Lane to police five times in six months – of wasting police time.

Lane murdered Ms Grice in August 2016, after sneaking into her home and slitting her throat before trying to burn her body.

Dame Vera told PA: “Police responses to stalking have improved, particularly through input from national charities such as the Suzy Lamplugh and Alice Ruggles Trusts.

“But there is still widespread failure to recognise stalking and to understand how dangerous it is.”

A police misconduct panel this week found a series of failures, including that Mr Godfrey failed to treat Ms Grice as a victim, pay sufficient regard to her fears, or carry out a risk assessment over her potential to be a victim at the hands of Lane.

Giving evidence, Mr Godfrey sought to defend his actions by saying there was no sign of Lane harassing Ms Grice because it subsequently emerged the pair were in a secret relationship.

Mr Godfrey said: “She would be signing her texts (to Lane) with five kisses. This is not harassment. It was a smokescreen to disguise her affair.”

Mr Godfrey also said there was therefore “no reason” to supply Ms Grice with safety advice.

While she said she was unable to comment on individual cases, Dame Vera said there needed to be greater general awareness of harassment and stalking warning signs.

She said: “Behaviour does not have to be violent in itself to put victims at serious risk. It is the frequency and repetition that should flash up a red light for officers.

“A professional risk assessment is essential in every case, followed by a full investigation. The facts could not be clearer that this is especially vital when the stalker is an ex-partner.

“Victims need to have confidence that they can report and be taken seriously. The police need to intervene immediately and there are preventive orders in place now that they should be using.”

In a statement following the misconduct hearing, Ms Grice’s parents, Sharon Grice and Richard Green, accused Mr Godfrey – who would not have been forced to quit as a police officer, even if he not already retired at the end of 2017 – of having a “discriminatory attitude”.

They said: “What message does it send to victims? We are disgusted and feel thoroughly let down by the process.”

Sussex Police said it was learning lessons about how it deals with stalking, harassment and domestic abuse.

A recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services raised concerns that the lack of a single legal definition of stalking meant forces were not consistently identifying it and protecting victims.

Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, said: “The descriptions during the misconduct hearing of police conduct in response to a worried and frightened woman reporting criminal offences should give every police leader pause for thought.

“How is it that in 2019 we still employ police officers who seem to believe that a previous partner is unlikely to be a risk even when a woman says she finds him threatening?

“Shana’s murder and this misconduct hearing also shows there are ongoing, serious failings in police leadership on sexual and domestic violence.

“Every working police officer should have a high level of training on domestic and sexual violence, they should know how to watch for and discount the myths and excuses, and they should hear regularly from senior officers that they are expected to take reports seriously and protect.

“Without this the murders will not decrease, and we will continue to attend trials and inquests where no-one is learning from the findings and recommendations. The deceased and their families deserve better.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Victims’ Commissioner.

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