Tag Archives: stalking

Victims being Failed

Stalking victims being failed, say watchdogs” (BBC on 5th July 2017)

Bijan Ebrahimi: Police ‘failed’ murdered man for years.” (BBC on 5th July 2017)

There is a familiar theme here in these 2 reports that came out last week.  One report was published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the other by HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary).  Both contain worrying conclusions of how victims are not being listened to and not properly protected.

This was also a message that came out of the tragic death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca.  The Independent Police Complaints Commission concludedthat the police’s error in not identifying Fiona Pilkington and her children as a vulnerable family “lay at the core” of their failure to provide a cohesive and effective approach.  Incidents were too often dealt with by police officers in isolation and with an unstructured approach.

Victims being failed.  It is what we are hearing from the Grenfell Tower residents. Last week we heard it about victims of stalkers – that many victims are being failed with poorly run investigations and insufficient protection given to victims.  We also see how badly one vulnerable victim was treated in Bristol, with such a lack of support that he ultimately ended up losing his life as he sought to get evidence and find someone who would believe him and act to stop the anti-social behaviour he was suffering.

How many more Bijan Ebrahimis and Fiona Pilkingtons do we need to have before change is made?  What would that change look like?

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 was designed to put victims first.  However, in practice, much of that seems to be just in word rather than deed.  Our biggest concern is that whatever powers are put in place in theory and through legislation to protect victims or give them a louder voice, in practice individual victims can still be ignored, or as in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi told to ‘Shut up’!

A victim or group of victims who are being ignored now have the ability to insist on a case review through the Community Trigger process.  Yet we know of a victim of stalking who felt she was being failed by the authorities and when she activated the Community Trigger was simply told a review had happened and ‘that all processes had been followed’.  However, she is still suffering and not receiving any support or protection.

The Appeal process for the Community Trigger often goes to the same agency that managed it in the first place.  This is a problem but there should also be no need for genuine victims to have to jump through so many hoops.  In some areas of England and Wales, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office is involved in managing Appeals.  When the Government’s White Paper: Putting Victims First was written, PCCs were specifically mentioned as people to whom victims could go for help.

In practice, and in our experience, the reality is far different.  Police and Crime Commissioners have no mandate to act in the area of anti-social behaviour so many do not.  Even when we have asked a PCC office about an individual, we are only told that they have called the local police and been assured that all necessary support has been offered.  Everything is taken at face value and no checks are done.

Without checks, how will we know who is being failed?  Only when the failure has been severe and the investigation done.  This is a serious problem in the whole system – not just in anti-social behaviour but across many spheres of public life. When members of the public cry out for help, what confidence can they have that their small voice will be heard when up again big organisations like the Council and the Police?  The solution cannot be more red tape and requiring more of already cash-strapped public services, yet there needs to be some better way of empowering victims in an effective way.

Independent Chair?

If someone in a situation like that of Bijan Ebrahimi approached us today, we would recommend they activate the Community Trigger which has been set up for victims who feel like they are being ignored by local agencies.  However, it is worth mentioning that in Bijan Ebrahimi’s case, the Community Trigger probably would not have yielded results unless there was an independent member of the panel.

If he was known to the main agencies, including the police and the Council, it is easy to see how they might skew a case review right from the outset by saying that the victim is a persistent complainant.  We believe the Community Trigger (also known as ASB Case Review) would have so much more potential power if it was chaired by someone independent from the whole case, trained to critically challenge the evidence and any bias.  To have that independent perspective could have shed crucial light onto the situation and made a real difference.

 

Vulnerability still Neglected

Restorative Justice is a technique that can bring great results. However, when it comes to victims experiencing significant vulnerability, we believe RJ should come with a warning “Use with Care”.

We have not focused much attention on the Restorative Justice element of dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour and we are not aware of how extensive the use of the Community Remedy has been.

We have heard from some individual victims who have questioned the suggestion by police that they meet with their harasser or stalker (and at times this suggestion has been quite forceful). It was therefore comforting to read that this is an issue recognised by the police and was specifically mentioned in a speech the Home Secretary delivered last month at the Police Federation Annual Conference. Speaking first about domestic violence, Theresa May said:

“I know that restorative justice is meant to be victim-led and I know that guidance says it should be considered in all cases. But I simply do not believe it follows either the evidence or common sense to sit vulnerable victims across from perpetrators who for months and years may have destroyed their confidence, manipulated their mind, and beaten their bodies.”

She then specifically mentioned victims of stalking and harassment as among the vulnerable people neglected by the police. We are glad to see that this has been noted. There is a recognition that these crimes are still investigated with different tools and often less urgency than other crimes that pose much less risk to individuals and communities.

The purpose of creating the new anti-social behaviour legislation in 2014 was to put victims first and give the police and other agencies quicker, more effective powers to bring respite to those victims. It is concerning, then, to learn that harassment and stalking are still not being tackled as a matter of urgency. As the Home Secretary went on to say:

As HMIC found last year, not a single police force in England and Wales is outstanding at protecting those who are vulnerable from harm and supporting victims, and 31 forces are judged to be either inadequate or requiring improvement.

We have been invited to be part of a police-led ASB vulnerability working group, seeking to develop a cross service / agency vulnerability toolkit and assessment process. The hope is that this group will help drive national standards in this key area through building up appropriate products as well as sharing good practice. It is good to see steps being taken to address these failings and we are delighted to have the opportunity to share the experiences we hear from victims of anti-social behaviour, with a view to ensuring they get a better service and sensitivity to their particular situation.

If you have a story to share, do add your voice to that of others in our survey.

Emily Maitlis opens up about being victim of stalker

I can’t see how it will end.” Emily Maitlis, BBC Newsnight presenter

This weekend all the main newspapers picked up the story that BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis had opened up about her nightmare of being a victim of stalking for 25 years. Here is ‘The Guardian’s’ version: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/may/14/newsnight-presenter-emily-maitlis-opens-up-about-being-victim-of-stalker?CMP=twt_gu

In summary, Maitlis explains that she has been stalked by someone she knew from University and that in spite of convictions for harassing her and bombarding her with messages, it has not deterred him. She feels powerless, fears for her family and has to have an escort to go to the local supermarket as well as for her children to go to the school bus. You can feel the pain in her words:

“There is a weariness to it. It feels never ending. His life is ruined; I try to blank it. It’s a heaviness that sits on you, and when he comes back it’s dreadful. I get calls at all times of the day and night. It feels desperately sad. I can’t see how it will end.”

What’s particularly concerning on reading Emily’s story is those haunting words: “I can’t see how it will end,” How can you not sense the deep weariness of those 25 years of being stalked hanging over her? The conviction and restraining order in place seem to have done little to stop him and so it is no surprise Emily can’t see how it will end.

As a public figure, she is also not in a position to choose to move, hide away and hope he doesn’t find her. Nor should she have to. We were pleased to see that the Daily Mail’s report on this story includes a link to a National Stalking Helpline video.

It does seem, however, that the lack of a resounding cry for justice in any of the reports suggests a certain acceptance that this can be a problem victims must carry for life, through no fault of their own. This is something the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has been campaigning to change. They recently led a Stalking Awareness Week (18th-24th April) and issued a telling report: ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind‘ which shows that a lot more needs to be done to tackle stalking and support the victims, devastated by this crime.

If you are a victim of stalking, you should call the police, but you can also get helpful advice from the National Stalking Helpline.

Stalking not taken Seriously

“There very soon comes a time in stalking/harassment crime when SOMEONE has to do SOMETHING PRACTICAL to intervene. Only they don’t.” ‘Elaine’ of Bristol

We receive a whole variety of stories through our survey which is unsurprising given the breadth of anti-social behaviour. Of great concern, however, are two very similar stories we have read about stalking and the lack of support available to victims. One report comes from Birmingham, the other from Bristol. Both involve more than a decade of stalking. Both remain unresolved. According to ‘Elaine’ in Bristol, even her local Victim Support says there is no practical support available because Elaine still owns her house and is not a victim of domestic abuse.

The new Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2014 does not make this distinction and an owner-occupier should be just as entitled to support and assistance if suffering ASB as a Housing Association or Council tenant. Elaine speaks of local agencies just not wanting to know about stalking/harassment. She says they keep her running rings from one ‘helping’ agency to another and even accuses them of bullying and character assassination when trying to honestly report offences. “Nightmare doesn’t even begin to describe it,” she says. “Life is just not worth living anymore, everything has been taken away from me.”

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She mentions how knowledgeable the National Stalking Helpline is but that they cannot do anything practically but “there very soon comes a time in stalking/harassment crime when SOMEONE has to do SOMETHING PRACTICAL to intervene. Only they don’t. ” With the similar case in Birmingham, we advised the victim to activate the Community Trigger. Unfortunately she was simply told ‘all procedures had been followed’ and was not invited to give her side of the story. Maybe all procedures had been followed, but if she is still a victim of stalking after 14 years, more surely needs to be done!

The Community Trigger is designed to empower victims to insist on a case review. The heart behind it is that victims will get respite from ASB. We sense this is true in only a small minority of cases. However, it is the tool that is available to victims and as such the course of action we would recommend to Elaine. Activate her local Community Trigger and push Victim Support to help give her a voice in the ensuing case review. If rejected and yet she is still being stalked, appeal the decision with her local Police and Crime Commissioner. We may be doubtful about how useful these tools are, but the more people who attempt to get results with them, the more data we have to show their success or where they need improving.