Commissioner to grill Herts Police chief over stalking powers 'failure'
- Credit: Gene Genie Photography
Hertfordshire’s police watchdog will question the chief constable over officers’ low use of new stalking powers.
Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd said he would investigate after data showed Hertfordshire Police was seeking Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) in fewer than one in 160 cases.
Government introduced SPOs in 2019. They can be sought by police even when the evidence threshold for a criminal charge is not met.
Hertfordshire Police has described stalking as “prevalent” in the county, yet has barely used the new powers.
“While we are mid-table, I feel there may be issues that need addressing on how SPOs are being used by Hertfordshire Constabulary,” said Mr Lloyd.
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“It is helpful that these figures have highlighted this matter and I will be asking the chief constable if additional orders could or should have been made.”
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Last October, Hitchin man Robert Kemp became the first person in Hertfordshire to receive an interim Stalking Protection Order (SPO).
Kemp, then aged 37 and living in The Maples, received the order after a court heard his obsessive, controlling behaviour had ruined his ex-partner's life.
“He was literally in every corner of her life, trying to contact her by whatever means,” said DC Kate Mawer.
At the time, Hertfordshire Police said stalking was “prevalent”, with one in five women subject to the crime during their life, and one in ten men.
“The good news is that we have robust ways to deal with this unwanted and irrational behaviour,” said DI Claire Richardson.
One way, she said, was the new SPOs – a “powerful legislation”, under which Kemp was banned from going within 100 metres of anywhere he knew his victim to frequent.
In spring 2019, Hertfordshire Police announced that its officers were being trained in SPOs.
DCI Stuart Cheek said they would help “protect victims of stalking sooner and reduce the risk of harm against them.”
In spring 2020, as the UK was plunged into a national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the force issued a warning that the measures could make things easier for stalkers.
“It is vital that early warning signs are understood and victims feel able to ask for help,” said DCI Cheek.
But figures obtained by the BBC Shared Data Unit reveal that despite stalking complaints being filed at a rate of almost three per day, police have barely used their new SPO powers.
Between March 2020 and December 2020, Hertfordshire Police recorded 835 stalking complaints.
Of those, 68 – or 8.14 per cent – resulted in a charge.
Yet between January 2020 and May 2021, the force only applied for five SPOs.
On a table of 42 police forces in England and Wales, Hertfordshire ranked 21st for the number of SPOs it had sought.
Of the 20 forces which had sought more, eight had recorded fewer stalking than Hertfordshire.
Between March and December 2020, Surrey Police logged 373 stalking cases, compared to Hertfordshire’s 835.
But between January 2020 and May 2021, Surrey applied for 29 SPOs, compared to Hertfordshire’s five.
County councillor John Hale, Lib Dem spokesperson for community safety, said: “I would like to see Hertfordshire Police making more use of these orders.
“Stalking often leads to violent behaviour and even if it doesn’t it is a terrifying crime. Those powers were introduced to help the victims, allowing the police to act on behalf of the victim.
“The failure of Hertfordshire Police to make more robust use of those powers will have put victims at greater risk of violence.”
But DCI Hannah Treadwell, head of the force’s Domestic Abuse Investigation and Safeguarding Unit, said: “SPOs are new legislation and not appropriate to use in all stalking cases.
“However, we have a range of other measures we can use, including restraining orders and in extreme cases refuges that we and our specialist partner agencies can put in place immediately to safeguard domestic abuse victims.
“My officers have been given training in SPOs and we continue to work with the courts to protect anyone experiencing domestic abuse.”
Mr Lloyd said he would be “asking for reassurance” from Hertfordshire Police, adding: “I want to ensure that the full range of measures available to the police and the courts are being used appropriately to protect victims from this highly damaging crime.”