I rise to support, as strongly as I possibly can, the Government’s amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 134. It recognises the force of the arguments laid out in the report by my hon. Friend Alex Chalk and I last year, “Stalking: the Case for Extending the Maximum Sentence”. The report summarised the work of our researchers. Through them, we met victims, stalking charities, academics and police specialists. Everything we learned confirmed our initial instinct that there are a small number of very dangerous stalkers, such as my constituent Raymond Knight who pursued Cheltenham resident and Gloucester GP, Dr Eleanor Aston, to the point of nervous breakdown.
I pay tribute to the Government for accepting our report and its single recommendation of doubling the maximum sentence for stalking from five to 10 years, for amending the appropriate sections of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 on racial and religious aggravated harassment in line with the change to the maximum sentence for stalking, and for outlining in correspondence additional training that will be part of the measures to deal with the mental health issues of serious stalkers. I know the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have worked closely on this together. I am grateful to both Ministers here today for their action.
I also want to thank Gloucestershire-based Baroness Royall in the Lords for her commitment and contribution, and all those who informed us and shared harrowing experiences, including a constituent and her family. I would like to quote from her 16-year-old daughter, who was so egregiously stalked. She told us that the stalker
“broke into my house one night…all the knives in the knife stand were gone…I was sure I was going to die.”
In this particular case, my constituent and her family prefer to remain anonymous, not least because my constituent has been moved by the police to a safe house far from her home and her own children.
I am extremely grateful to all those who informed us, educated us and motivated us. I suspect the work I have done with my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham means that the neighbouring constituencies of Cheltenham and Gloucester have not worked so closely since the creation of the Cheltenham & Gloucester building society —now, alas, long since gone. It is for a good cause that we come together in support of the Government’s change of law.
The Government’s amendment in lieu will give judges the flexibility they need. As Dr Aston has said, victims will be able to sleep more easily when the worst stalkers are sentenced and the stalkers themselves will better understand the seriousness of their crime and receive more help in resolving what is a severe obsession and mental health issue. Of course, as Jess Phillips pointed out, that will not in itself stop stalking, but it shows that victims and judges are being heard, that MPs and ultimately the Government listen and that laws can be changed so that sentences better reflect the harm that a crime can inflict on innocent victims, most of whom, as in the instance that inspired my neighbour and me, are women. Ultimately, justice is only as good as the laws we adapt and the way in which they are implemented. In that context, I pay tribute to the Prime Minister, who made stalking a crime on the statute book when she was Home Secretary, and to the current Home Secretary, who has introduced protection orders against stalkers.
I will finish by returning to where this campaign started: the judge and the victim in Gloucester Crown court. I would like to thank Dr Ellie Aston for inspiring us, for being strong and for having faith; other victims for opening their hearts and sharing their stories; stalking charities, such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the Network for Surviving Stalking, Protection Against Stalking and Paladin; and the Hollie Gazzard Trust, the police and the University of Gloucestershire, which happens to be a leader in research in this sad area. This part of the journey for justice for victims of stalking is now close to over. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has reminded us that there will always be other issues to be raised and resolved, but today’s amendment in lieu deserves everyone’s support.