In my career I have dealt with a number of people that have stalked others. I have found them all disturbing individuals, driven by obsession and capable of all manner of unpleasant behaviours. These acts have included, breaking into the victim’s home, damaging property, repeated phone calls, texts and emails, sending malicious letters, leaving unwanted gifts; right through to killing a beloved family pet and assaults on the victims. As an investigator on Community Safety Units, I always took stalker cases seriously. In 2005, I was part of the investigating team for a murder that gives an insight into the horrific acts some stalkers are capable of. A man called Michael Pech walked into the exclusive department store Harvey Nicholls and shot 22-year old Clare Bernal, before turning the gun on himself.
Clare Bernal was a beauty assistant working within the cosmetics department. In February 2005, Clare briefly dated 30-year old security guard Michael Pech, also an employee at the store. Czech born Pech was a former soldier in the Slovakian army who had come to the UK in 2003 and lived in Tottenham, north London. Within a few short weeks Clare ended the relationship, for Pech had become worryingly infatuated with her. He took this badly and began pestering her at work, sending numerus texts, using emotional blackmail by threatening to kill himself, in an attempt to force her to change her mind. His behaviour quickly escalated, and he began following her home. On 30th March, after she told him she would report him to the police if he didn’t leave her alone, he threatened to kill her.
Clare reported Pech to her bosses and police. He was suspended from the store but it didn’t stop him following her and turning up at her home address. On 10th April when he again turned up at her home address, Clare called the police. Previously when the police had turned up, he had disappeared, but this time he was still there and he was arrested for harassment.
Pech was charged, remanded to custody and spent a brief period in HMP Belmarsh. His trial was set for 31st August, but on 19th April via video link from prison, he made a successful bail application. Pech was freed with conditions not to contact Clare or go to the area she lived in. Less than a week later he left the UK and returned to Slovakia where he underwent firearms training. Having successfully obtained a firearms licence, he purchased a Luger pistol. Towards the end of July, he re-entered the UK by coach, bringing with him the undetected firearm. On 31st August he appeared at court, pleaded guilty to harassment and was bailed until 21st September for pre-sentence reports. At that point he had not contacted Clare since being sent to Belmarsh back in April. On 13th September shortly before the store was due to close, he walked into Harvey Nichols, approached Clare from behind, produced the Luger and shot her dead. He then turned the gun on himself and shot himself dead.
I never like the way that the media feel the need to graphically portray some murders. Family and friends simply do not need to see explicit detail of how their loved ones died splashed across the front page of the newspapers. This case was no exception, particularly with some of the images they featured. However, for this article I feel that it is important to highlight how Pech killed Clare, for it is indicative of many other stalking related murders. Whilst Pech shot Clare from behind, he then went on to fire three more shots into her face from close range. His actions demonstrate his obsessiveness, rage and hatred at what he saw as the ultimate rejection.
I had a minor involvement in the investigation, but this shocking murder is the reason that I have followed with interest, the calls for a stalking law and the campaign for a stalker register. It hasn’t been easy going, for those dedicated people that have campaigned. However, there has been progress. Since Clare’s death there have been a number of key events. In 2009 the DASH (Domestic Abuse, Stalking, Harassment and Honour Based Violence) Risk Identification and Management tool was introduced and is used by police forces to assess and manage risk. In 2010 the National Stalking Helpline was created and in 2012 the Protection of Freedoms Act was introduced, creating two new offences of stalking. Currently the Stalking Protection Bill is passing through Parliament which will introduce Stalking Protection Orders (SPO’s). However, there is one specific campaign that has been around for many years now, the call for a stalkers register. Are those people that have fought hard to see its introduction, any nearer seeing the register become a reality?
The call for a stalkers register has its origins in two dreadful homicides, those of Jane Clough and Kirsty Treloar who were both murdered by their stalkers. Jane, a nurse at Blackpool Victoria Hospital was murdered in July 2010 by her former partner Jonathan Vass. After ending their relationship with him, she reported him to the police for a series of rapes and assaults against her. Vass was arrested, charged with 9 counts of rape, 4 counts of assault and remanded. Despite this he was later given bail by the court and one night in July as she arrived at work for her night shift she was attacked in the car park and stabbed her 71 times. Vass then slit her throat as she lay bleeding on the ground.
Kirsty, 20 had ended her violent and abusive relationship with her boyfriend Myles Williams, having three weeks earlier given birth to a daughter. She had told Williams she never wanted to see again. On January 2nd, 2012 he broke into the family home, attacked Kirsty with a knife and dragged her to his car. Her brother and sister tried to defend her, but Williams attacked them, stabbing her brother in the chest and slashing her sister across the arm. Kirsty’s body was discovered behind a wheelie bin a couple of miles from her home. She had been stabbed 29 times.
The families of both are committed in their belief that both women would have had a chance, had their abuses been registered and therefore monitored and managed by those agencies charged with safeguarding the public. They are not alone in this belief and calls for a ‘stalker register’ have gathered momentum over the last few years. They are supported in their call by Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service.
The main aim of the ‘Serial Perpetrator Register and Order’ to give it its correct title, is to introduce a register and framework which would enable police to proactively identify, track, monitor and manage stalkers. The ethos behind the campaign is that it is the perpetrators conduct that is the issue, and therefore the perpetrators that should be tracked, targeted and made to change their behaviour. They argue rightly that currently it is the victim who is forced to alter or change their lifestyle, often having to leave their homes, families or jobs to get away from their abuser. I cannot agree more with their view, for I now wince at the amount of times I have said to victims of abuse “is there anywhere you can go”, or “I advise you not to go home” or “I can’t keep you safe if you return to your house”. Whilst there was often good reason for these comments, it can’t be right that a victim of stalking must dramatically change their life, purely to escape a situation which is solely the fault of a dangerous and obsessive individual.
Paladin have made a number of recommendations:
Recommendation 1: The Government consider making DVPO/Ns a criminal breach to ensure effective sanctions.
Recommendation 2: Consideration to amend PACE to ensure police can keep the perpetrator in custody long enough to serve the DVPO on them there, rather than releasing them at a time of increased risk.
Recommendation 3: The Government consider creating a register for serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators and incorporating it into the existing framework for sex offenders.
Recommendation 4: The Government consider creating a new Serial Perpetrator Order (SPO) for serial stalkers and domestic violence offenders.
Recommendation 5: The Government consider creating a new Risk of Harm Order for serial stalkers and domestic violence offenders.
Recommendation 6: Ensure orders stand across European boundaries so that offending histories, behaviour and restrictions are also shared across borders.
What Recommendation 3 means is that those people identified as stalkers would be added to the national ‘Violent and Sex Offenders Register’ (ViSOR), effectively ensuring that potential perpetrators are managed in a similar way to Registered Sex Offenders. This is done through the police ViSOR system and the MAPPA process (Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements) which involves the police working with the Prison, Probation Service and other agencies to manage violent and sexual offenders.
In October 2017, Paladin went to Downing Street and presented a petition containing 130,000 signatures, calling on the Prime Minister to include serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators on the Violent and Sex Offenders Register. With Laura Richards CEO of Paladin, were Kirsty’s mother Pam Dabney and Jane’s parents John and Penny Clough. They were joined by Zoe Dronfield a survivor of a horrific assault by her ex-boyfriend and by Clive and Sue Ruggles, whose daughter Alice had been stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend a year before. Alice’s murder was a stark reminder that the issues that had been present when Clare Bernal had been murdered, were and are still present despite the introduction of a specific offence of stalking and police assessment tools.
In October 2017 the House of Lords briefly debated the introduction of a register. From that debate the signs of a register being introduced anytime soon, were not encouraging. Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State for Countering Extremism and Minister for State for Equalities met a question in the House with a lukewarm response. She was asked by Labour Peer Baroness Royall whether the Government intended to introduce a register of serial stalkers. Baroness Williams initially responded with several very politician like answers before finally saying “It is important in this space to ensure that we have a register that is simple to use for those who need to use it, and not to over-complicate things by issuing too many registers, with cases potentially falling between the cracks”.
The following month Baroness Williams made the Government’s viewpoint, even clearer. On 27th November 2017 there were further questions directed at Baroness Williams in the House of Lords. Baroness Williams again informed the House that the Government is fully committed to tackling stalking and managing serial offenders. However, she expressed an opinion that stalking perpetrators could already be listed on the existing database (ViSOR) and managed under MAPPA.
In my view this was a bit of a curve ball answer by the Baroness, given that MAPPA offenders fall into three categories. Most stalking offenders would not initially fit into the first two categories, for they rely on offenders having been convicted. The third category relies on a dangerous offender having committed an offence in the past and who are considered to pose a serious harm to the public. Whilst stalkers are undoubtedly dangerous people, the actions they take often appear minor at first, but then escalate over a period, meaning the victim often has to report multiple incidents, concerning behaviours or crimes before action is taken. By then it can often be too late and therefore it is my view that Category 3 doesn’t fit the bill for stalkers.
Baroness Williams then stated that the Government were “not convinced that a new register would improve how serial perpetrators are managed and are concerned that this approach may risk a disjointed police and offender management response”. Labour Peer Baroness Gale asked for clarity, enquiring as to whether Baroness Williams was saying that she did not see the need for a separate register despite all the evidence presented from Paladin. Baroness Gale pointed out the need for serial stalkers and the perpetrators of domestic violence, to be subject to orders so that they had a positive obligation placed upon them to change their behaviour. She then said that they should be included on the ViSOR database and managed through MAPPA to give better protection to victims.
Baroness Williams countered by saying she was fully supportive of a register but that “running several registers might lead to a fragmented approach by the police and the probation service”. That “one register capturing both violent and serious sex offenders enables the police to deal more effectively with the types of people that we all want to capture”.
Is anyone confused at this point. Isn’t this just playing with words? Are they not all taking about the same thing? Simplified the Government are saying that there is already a database (ViSOR) and a management system (MAPPA) in place and that it is open to serial stalkers. But, the reality is, that it is not open to the type of stalking perpetrators that caused the deaths of Clare, Kirsty, Jane and Alice. The standard to get onto ViSOR and MAPPA is high. Most stalkers do not fit the criteria, unless that criteria were changed to specifically include them. That’s what we are really talking about here, and there does not appear to be a willingness or inclination by the Government for change.
Meanwhile back to the debate. Baroness Burt then raised the point that is that there currently is no existing framework which can track or monitor serial stalkers. She asked whether this could be addressed in the Domestic Violence Bill. Baroness Williams then spoke about Clare’s Law and invited all the other Peers to take part in the Bill’s consultation. The debate continued between the Lords, concentrating on aspects of the proposed Bill, but not specifically on stalking, that is until Baroness Royall again addressed Baroness Williams on the matter.
Baroness Royall was clearly not happy and referred to a meeting between Paladin and Sarah Newton on 11th September. At the time Mrs Newton had been the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office and responsible for Vulnerability and Safeguarding. It appears at that meeting there was a commitment of some sort to include a stalkers register as part of the consultation into Domestic Abuse Bill. Baroness Royall referred to Baroness Williams earlier statement and asked her what had changed that view in the last 2 months, in effect why were the government now not committed to a stalkers register being part of the consultation. Baroness Williams stated that nothing had changed and that “there is every opportunity for the noble Baroness to put that forward through the consultation”. The debate ended shortly thereafter.
What was clear was that Baroness Williams and therefore the government, were not that keen on the introduction of the register using terminology like “not convinced”, “disjointed response” and “lead to a fragmented approach”.
So why is the Government so reluctant to introduce a register? Is it because they do not feel that it is a big enough problem? The evidence seems to suggest that there is a very real problem. I never like to talk about victims and statistics in the same context, for me victims of murder and other serious crimes are more than statistics. However, the statistical evidence does provide a huge insight into the scale of stalking in the UK, and the link to homicide in several cases. Just some stats:
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men will suffer stalking in their lifetime although this is a conservative figure (Paladin)
- estimated 5 million people experience stalking each year. This figure excludes (British Crime Survey (2006)
- 700,000 women experience stalking every year (Crime Survey of England & Wales 2009-12).
- 454 domestic homicides recorded by the police in England & Wales April 2013 to March 2016 representing 31% of all homicides
- 76% of females murdered by their ex-partners were stalked in the lead-up to their deaths (figures from the USA)
- approximately 75% of women killed by their ex-partner or former spouse are murdered with within 12 months of their separation.
- 27 domestic homicide reviews in the last 5 years have identified stalking behaviour as being present in the lead-up to the murder of the victim
Last year the Homicide Research Group at the University of Gloucestershire produced the report ‘Exploring the Relationship between Stalking and Homicide’. They concluded that at least 10 people die every week in the UK as a result of violence related to interpersonal abuse. Their research, which focussed on the relationship between stalking and homicide, looked at 358 cases of criminal homicide which occurred in the UK in the years 2012 – 2014. Amongst their findings were:
- stalking behaviours were present in 94% of the cases
- obsession in 94% of cases
- fixation in 88% of cases
- surveillance activity (including covert watching) in 63% of the cases
They concluded that there is “a strong correlation between some key stalking behaviours and homicide”, and that stalking “is a key indicator for future potential serious harm”. If any further proof were needed, then look no further than the headlines for just the first month of this year, which were filled with stalking related murders.
On 18th January, Andrew Burke entered a Tui Travel Agents where 28-year old Cassie Hayes was the assistant manager. He approached her from behind and cut her throat in front of customers and staff. The previous day he had been convicted of harassing his ex-partner Laura Williams. Cassie had started a relationship with Laura and Burke held her responsible for the breakup. He had previously threatened to kill himself or Cassie.
At the end of January 51-year-old Cheryl Hooper was shot dead in front of her daughter, as she sat in her Range Rover. Initial reports suggested that she had been stalked in the period before her death, although this has not yet been confirmed by the police. In another case 26-year old Joshua Stimpson was jailed for life after being found guilty of murdering his ex-girlfriend Molly McLaren. Stimpson had stalked 23-year-old Molly, prior to stabbing her 75 times as she sat in her car in June, the previous year.
Also, in January Simon Mellors, 56, killed 51-year old Janet Scott after she had ended her relationship with him and reunited with her husband from who she had previously separated. Mellors stabbed Janet at home in Nottingham and then drove her towards Nottingham city centre. She managed to escape from the car and approached a traffic officer for help. Mellors then drove at Janet and the officer, killing Janet and injuring the officer. Mellors who was out on licence for murdering his former partner in 1999, had stalked Janet in the weeks before her murder.
The evidence speaks for itself, there is absolutely no doubt that we are dealing with extremely dangerous offenders. There is a compelling argument that many of them need to be tracked, monitored and proactively managed. Only the government know the reasons they are not keen on the register. However, there is a good chance that it is linked to funding and resources. With public service budgets squeezed to breaking point, it may be that there just isn’t the capability for the police to manage more offenders. According to the MAPPA Annual report 2016/2017 published by the Ministry of Justice, on 31st March 2017 there were 76,794 MAPPA eligible offenders. Of these 72% were Category 1 offenders (Registered Sex Offenders) and 27.6% were Category 2 offenders (Violent Offenders).
Those agencies that are part of the MAPPA system are already under pressure to manage the number of existing offenders on ViSOR. The register is not getting any shorter and it is extremely difficult to keep track of people that may, at any time commit serious offences. Headlines in many of the national papers earlier this year such as “Police admit they have lost track of 372 sex criminals convicted of offences including rape and grooming” are sensationalist and don’t give a balanced view of the problems associated with managing offenders. It may be that at the highest level there have been discussions leading to concerns, that adding thousands more subjects to the an already struggling system, may well lead to even more negative headlines. However, that provides little comfort for the families of those people murdered by stalkers, or those that are currently being stalked.
National Stalking Awareness week runs from 16th April to 22nd April 2018.
Nearly 149,000 people have now signed the petition. You can still support them by following the link : Stalkers Register
You can read ‘Exploring the Relationship between Stalking and Homicide’ here