New guidelines for sentencing intimidatory offences have today been released by the Sentencing Council.  Suzy Lamplugh Trust welcomes the Council’s focus on these distressing crimes however, the charity is disappointed that our key recommendation to separate stalking and harassment guidelines has been rejected.

We remain concerned that the stated rationale for proposing one guideline for both offences is that ‘as the statutory maxima, culpability and harm factors were the same for both offences, it was sensible to have one guideline for both offences’.

Stalking is an insidious crime and commonly causes prolonged suffering for victims with around a third of cases involving physical violence. Recent research has found that 55% of stalking perpetrators go on to reoffend, and 36% have a previous conviction for harassment. However, the complex psychological issues associated with the crime often fail to be addressed within the criminal Justice system.  

Suzy Lamplugh Trust runs the National Stalking Helpline and we hear from victims whose offenders are not being correctly identified as stalkers and therefore not accessing the support they need in addressing the underlying fixation and obsession with their victim. Meanwhile, victims are being left in high risk situations. For the victims we support, this failure to recognise the specific impact of stalking can be as traumatic as the stalking itself.

We are deeply concerned with the Sentencing Council decision, whilst harassment can include some of the same behaviours as stalking and causes a victim fear and distress, stalking is differentiated by the motivation of the stalker. If a stalker’s behaviour shows a fixation or obsession and this behaviour is causing alarm and distress then this meets the definition of stalking.

A client of the National Stalking Helpline said, ‘When you are being stalked every waking moment you are thinking ‘What’s next?’, ‘What will I wake up to today?’. It is not a life anyone would wish for. To be told by professionals, who are meant to keep you safe, that this is harassment is like a life sentence that nothing will change. I am a victim of stalking, but I am also a victim of a failed Criminal Justice System who I feel have no interest in keeping me safe.’

Rachel Griffin, Chief Executive of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said, ‘The Sentencing Council’s decision to have one guideline for the offences of stalking and harassment shows an unfortunate continuation of this confusion around what constitutes stalking and how it differs from harassment. The National Stalking Helpline, to date, has responded to over 23,000 calls and emails from victims of stalking. We hear the devastating effects a stalker can have on a victims’ life which can force them to change their job, move house, become isolated and their mental health can also deteriorate. The Criminal Justice System, across the board, needs to improve its understanding of stalking and the day to day impact it has on a victim. We are disappointed that the Sentencing Council has rejected our recommendation and we remain committed in our ongoing campaign to improve the protection provided by the Criminal Justice System to victims of stalking’