Stalking offences are set to hit record high in Bedfordshire

Offences recorded in just six months are already more than double the amount during the entire previous year

Stalking offences are set to hit a record high this year in Bedfordshire, figures suggest.

Home Office data shows that the number of stalking offences recorded in the six months between April and September by Bedfordshire Police, is already more than double the amount recorded during the whole previous year.

The force recorded 337 stalking offences between April and September – in the 12 months to March 2020 there were 142.

Offences recorded in just six months are already more than double the amount during the entire previous year

It means that in the first six months since the coronavirus pandemic hit, stalking was reported twice a day on average.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust said calls to its National Stalking Helpline have risen since the start of the pandemic, with cyber stalking cases also surging.

As lockdown restrictions eased, a higher number of victims came forward to report stalking, compared to the first lockdown months. Between July and September, 199 such crimes were reported in Bedfordshire – 61 more than the previous three months.

Detective Inspector Katherine Rivers, Bedfordshire Police's lead on stalking and harassment, said: “We welcome the increase in reports of stalking and harassment as this means victims are feeling more confident in coming forward. We have a number of powers to support them throughout the process.

“Our force is constantly improving its response to stalking and harassment, and has invested in training to be able to best support victims of this type of crime.

“Last month we secured our first ever Stalking Protection Order. These are civil orders which became law in January 2020, and offer interim protection for anyone who believes they are being targeted by stalking behaviour. They allow us to protect the victim, and deter an offender with or without resultant criminal proceedings.

“Stalking and harassment can have an extremely negative impact on a victim and result in severe, long lasting trauma, and can be linked to some of the highest harm crimes, including domestic abuse, sexual offences, and even murder.”

Changes to the way stalking is recorded were also introduced in April 2019, with the crime being recorded in addition to the most serious offence involving the same victim or offender.

Since April 2020, all cases of harassment reported between ex-partners must also be recorded as stalking, unless the police are satisfied stalking is not a factor.

However, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said that while these changes may have contributed to a rise in reports, there was still significant underreporting of the crime.

A spokesman for the charity said: "Since March 2020 we have seen a rise in calls to the helpline, clients are more distressed and are requiring much greater support, we have also seen an increase in cyber stalking cases.

"Demand has fluctuated to the helpline over the course of the pandemic, in some periods it has tripled on pre-covid levels.

"The introduction of Stalking Protection Orders has been very much welcomed, though we do still hope to see more police forces issuing them."