Part of Stalking Protection Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:17 am on 23rd November 2018.

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Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 11:17 am, 23rd November 2018

I thank my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston for introducing this important Bill, and for her assiduous work in bringing it forward. I also thank Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for contributing powerful arguments this morning and situating this Bill and this change in the context of a wider agenda to prevent violence against women. Today we are taking an important step to protect victims of stalking, but it will not, of course, be the final step.

One reason why I am keen to speak in this debate is that I have constituents who have been the victims of stalking: the family of Alice Ruggles, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has mentioned. Alice was murdered in 2016 by Trimaan Dhillon, who has now been sentenced to life imprisonment. Alice’s story is a perfect example of so many of the problems that my hon. Friend’s Bill seeks to solve. Alice had twice told police that Trimaan Dhillon was harassing her. He was given a police information notice, but that did not stop his obsessive behaviour. Later, it emerged that police had previously given Dhillon a restraining order for harassing another ex-girlfriend. Alice’s family have established the Alice Ruggles Trust to make the case for changes to protect future victims of stalking, and I pay tribute to them for their incredible courage.

I am therefore very pleased to support this Bill today. It will fill a clear gap in the protective order regime and protect people like Alice in the future. It will enable effective action to be taken against stalkers whose actions are not yet provably over the criminal threshold. As my hon. Friend set out, the instrument being created today is highly flexible and will enable us to cover all the different new types of stalking behaviour. At present too many people who pose a real threat to life are simply being repeatedly cautioned and given PINs, or action is simply not taken against them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes pointed to the fact that there has been a huge increase in the registration of stalking cases, and that is welcome. It suggests that the police are now taking this more seriously. I hope that creating this new tool for the police in the form of the stalking protection order will help to solve the problem. The sanctions that it will create will help to stop stalkers whose behaviour is escalating, and the prohibitions it creates will help victims to live without fear. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk made a powerful speech in which he talked about “murder in slow motion”, and about the fact that cases can go on for years and years.

This is a hugely important new instrument, and I hope that, as well as providing these direct benefits, its introduction will be a catalyst for the police to improve their handling of stalking cases more generally. A report published last year by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service found that people who had suffered repeated harassment or stalking were frequently being let down by under-recording, by inconsistent services and by a lack of understanding in the criminal justice system.

In one of the most powerful parts of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, he described why these cases are so hard to tackle, and how something that can start off seeming slightly unsettling can shade off into something more sinister and then become more and more worrying. At what point do the police, who are busy all the time, take action? That is why this is such an important piece of legislation, and I hope that it will trigger police forces to review how they handle stalking and to start following the best practice guidance set out by the charity Paladin. This is a hugely important piece of legislation. It is not the end of the story, by any stretch of the imagination, but the flexibility the Bill creates will allow stalking protection orders to be useful in a wide variety of circumstances. It will improve lives and I hope that it will save lives. I support it in the strongest possible way.