West Yorkshire Police force issue just three stalking protection orders despite recording more than 3000 offences
More needs to be done to protect people in West Yorkshire from "the terrifying consequences" of stalking as new figures reveal reports to police have increased by 173 per cent.
West Yorkshire has the fourth highest number of stalking incidents reported to its police force with 3196 incidents being called in between April and December last year compared to 4,866 for the Met Police; 4,087 in the West Midlands and 3,228 for Kent.
However, data also reveals that West Yorkshire is amongst the police forces that have the lowest charge rate with just four per cent of those 3196 incidents resulting in charges being made.
Cases in the county have increased hugely in the last five years with 95 cases being recorded for 2015 compared to 182 for 2016-17; 669 for 2017-18; 961 for 2018-19; 1171 for 2019-20 and more than double that amount being reported for the period of March 2020 to December 2020.
An investigation by the BBC has analysed the number of stalking incidents recorded by each police force since 2015/16. The latest data available covers the nine-month period between April 2020 and December 2020.
A Freedom of Information request was also put to the 43 police forces across England to discover how many were imposing Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), and how any applications had been been granted or rejected by the courts.
No response was received from Lincolnshire or North Yorkshire Police.
Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) are a new civil power available to police which impose restrictions on suspected stalkers. They are designed to make it easier to curb the behaviour of stalkers, with a lower burden of proof required than for a criminal conviction.
But data shows the use of SPOs, which have been available to police forces in England and Wales since January 2020, varies widely from force to force, with four failing to apply for a single order in the past fifteen months.
In England, just 294 orders have been granted since January 2020, despite more than 55,000 stalking incidents being recorded by police in the nine months to December 2020 alone.
For West Yorkshire, since the powers were introduced the police force has applied for and been granted just three orders, compared to the Met which has asked 123 times for one. Greater Manchester and West Midlands asked for 15 and 14 respectively while neighbouring force, South Yorkshire Police, applied for and was granted two orders.
West Yorkshire Police said changes to the way that calls were recorded would account for the spike in reports of stalking but also added that it is looking at increasing the use of recent stalking legislation as it believes the actual number of stalking cases are higher than the numbers reported.
Det Chief Insp Allan Raw from West Yorkshire’s Safeguarding Central Governance Unit, said: “West Yorkshire Police takes very seriously its responsibility to safeguard its communities and ensure members of the public can live in an environment free of harassment.
“The force has actively responded to the ‘Living in Fear – the Police and CPS response to harassment and stalking’ document published in 2017. We have put in dedicated training for officers and control room staff to better identify cases of stalking.
“We also regularly review cases and are working closely with the CPS to secure the best outcomes for victims. We are also working with them to improve both investigation quality, and charging and detection rates with regards to all domestic abuse cases, including staking and harassment, as are many other police forces. The force also seeks to apply for and use Stalking and Protection orders where appropriate and does look at ways of increasing their use. “
He added: “The number of charges obtained for stalking and harassment offences has increased year on year for the last three years but, similar to other polices forces nationally, we have seen a significant increase in the number of stalking offences recorded.
“Much of this increase in West Yorkshire relates to improvements in crime recording practices by the Force which has seen it rated as Outstanding by HMICFRS for its crime and data integrity, as well as increased confidence by victims to come forward and report these offences to police.
“Over the last two years processes to review domestic abuse risk assessments have highlighted further cases of stalking and all ex-partner harassment reports are now recording as stalking. However, we accept this is an under-reported crime and the actual number of offences will be higher.
“Our communities should feel reassured that we and our partner agencies will provide the support and help they need. Whenever there is evidence of a crime we will always do our best to find the most appropriate outcome for the victim, in what can be very distressing situations."
Meanwhile, a victim support group said more needed to be done to utilise the powers but said there had been progress in how stalking is dealt with.
Lesley McLean, Victim Support’s Area Manager in West Yorkshire, said: “While there has been some progress in identifying and recording stalking offences, a lot more needs to be done to give those affected by this crime the confidence that they will be listened to and supported when they report their experience of stalking.
“Stalking can have terrifying consequences and it is vital that the police use all of the tools at their disposal, particularly Stalking Protection Orders, before concerning behaviour escalate in severity.”