Failure to act early on stalking 'could lead to violence and death'

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Failure to take action on stalking could lead to an escalation in violence and potentially death, a study of more than 350 homicides suggests.

The results of a six-month study claim there is a strong correlation between some key stalking behaviours and homicides.

Criminologists found that stalking was present in 94% of the cases they studied and surveillance activity, including covert watching, was recorded 63% of the time.

Escalation of concerning behaviours was identified in 79% of the examples. Other factors highlighted were control and isolation of the victim and making threats to kill.

The six-month study at the University of Gloucestershire found that by identifying the intention behind the stalking and then managing the fixation may reveal opportunities to save lives.

According to the researchers, 85% of homicides occurred in the victim's home.

Dr Jane Monckton Smith, a former police officer turned criminologist, found that in almost every case the killer displayed the obsessive, fixated behaviour associated with stalking.

Stalking could present itself in acts as simple as rearranging a victim's garden furniture, sending unwanted gifts, loitering on the pavement outside their house, or even calling social services to maliciously report "poor" parenting.

With the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Dr Monckton Smith is calling on the professionals across the criminal justice system to review their approach to assessing risk, so that the 1.1 million people that are victims of stalking every year can be offered greater protection.

"Practically every case we looked at featured examples of the obsessive, fixated behaviour that typifies stalking," she said.

"Sadly, it is too late for the women and children that formed part of our research so we need to do justice to their memory by acting earlier, when stalkers are demonstrating these behaviours, rather than waiting for the escalation, which can have such profound and tragic results.

"Understanding the motivation behind these behaviours, and the risk that they present, is profoundly important."

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, are calling on the courts to recognise stalking as a broader problem and pattern of behaviour.

Chief executive Rachel Griffin said: "Stalking is an obsession which can increase in risk and severity and needs to be addressed under an early intervention model.

"Acting on what are currently considered to be minor, unrelated incidents, but which are driven by a malicious intent which could later put the victim at great risk, could help to save lives."

The charity is currently working with three police forces and NHS trusts to pilot intervention programmes that focus on the fixation of the stalker.

"To see these changes being put into action, we need real commitment from criminal justice professionals to ensure that the intention driving the behaviour is examined and assessed for threat, and that these seemingly 'harmless actions' are seen for what they are and given the attention they deserve," Ms Griffin added.

:: The study looked at 358 cases of criminal homicide which occurred in the UK between 2012 and 2014.