By Graham Fahy
Stalkers that breach restraining orders should be jailed, parliamentarians have urged.
An independent parliamentary inquiry into stalking law reform has recommended the strengthening of existing sentencing guidelines so that those who breach a restraining order will face a custodial sentence.
MPs and peers found that victims of stalking have a profound lack of confidence in the criminal justice system and that very few prosecutions under the current act result in custodial sentences.
"Stalking is a crime that rips relationships apart and shatters lives. But for too long it has remained a hidden crime, a crime which victims have been reluctant to report out of fear that they wouldn’t be taken seriously," Plaid MP Elfyn Llwyd, chairman of the inquiry, said.
"The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 was a landmark piece of legislation, but the view of nearly all those giving evidence was that it was not an effective tool against stalking and that too many perpetrators were falling through the net".
The findings come after an Old Bailey jury found Clifford Mills, 49, guilty of murdering Lorna Smith on Friday.
Mills had persistently stalked his ex-girlfriend on Facebook before attacking her at his flat in Brixton, south London, in February last year.
Previous conduct should always be taken into account before sentencing for additional offences, the inquiry recommended.
It urged that restrictions should be placed on offenders' use of phones, IT and letters once they are incarcerated and that a victims' advocacy scheme be set up to help support stalking victims through the criminal justice system.
MPs and peers also called for better training for criminal justice professionals and routine psychiatric assessments of perpetrators. They insisted that the rights of stalkers should no longer overrule the rights all victims have to safety.
A Home Office spokesperson said today that they would need to carefully consider all responses before acting and that "it is vital that victims of stalking get the support they need from the police and the courts and that offenders are properly punished".
Officials engaged in a consultation on the specific offence of stalking with a view to improving training and guidance for the police and Crown Prosecution Service.