I strongly agree with the hon. Lady’s comments. The House of Commons is at its best when we come together and find cross-party consensus on these issues. This is often evident only on a Friday when private Members’ Bills such as this are being debated. Perhaps it would be better if we could find similar common ground on other days of the week. Who knows, maybe we will do so in due course.
My hon. Friend’s Bill fills a lacuna in the current legislative framework. My hon. Friend Alex Chalk laid this out with his characteristic forensic attention to detail during his speech on Report a short while ago. He made it clear, very powerfully, that the tools available are not adequate to deal with this particular category of emerging stalking that we are addressing today. For example, the measure of taking out an injunction in the civil court is extremely complicated and expensive, so it is unreasonable to expect a victim of stalking to have to take out their own injunction in the county court or the High Court. Restraining orders generally follow conviction, or at the very least they follow court proceedings, so that occurs only when the problem has become so serious that the threshold of criminality has clearly been crossed and, generally speaking, adjudicated on by a criminal court. Bail conditions only follow arrest. So the measures of restraining orders and bail conditions cannot be used at an early stage in the pattern of offending. That is why the measure that we are debating today is so welcome; it gives victims protection at a very early stage in the process of the offending behaviour.
In the consultation that the Government ran on this legislation, 69% of respondents felt that the current legislative arrangements were inadequate and that something more was required. There is no question but that these stalking protection orders will fill the gap identified by those respondents. The gap is powerfully illustrated by a conviction that was handed down yesterday by the Crown Court in Hove in Sussex. The defendant who was convicted was in fact a resident of my borough, Croydon, and unusually it was a female defendant. Most defendants in these cases are male. This defendant, Lina Tantash, aged 44, is a resident of Croydon and she was jailed yesterday for four years for stalking offences that had carried on over a period of 10 years. The conviction applied to three of those years. She had persistently harassed and stalked the victim by turning up unexpectedly at his place of work—even turning up at his office Christmas party—by making thousands of phone calls and by offering money to his colleagues to provide his personal mobile phone number. Eventually, the victim had to leave the country.
This was a serious pattern of behaviour that took place over many years. When the sentence was handed down yesterday, it was accompanied by a restraining order to prevent any repeat of the offence, but by then it was far too late. Had this legislation been in place some years ago, it would have been open to the victim to go to the police and ask them to seek a stalking protection order. That would have prevented the offending from getting to that serious stage and it would probably have prevented the need for a criminal conviction. It would have protected the victim, but in a sense it would also have protected the perpetrator, because they would never have reached the point of facing a four-year prison sentence. This legislation would have benefited both the victim and the stalker, because it would have prevented the stalker from ending up with a criminal conviction. One of the most powerful elements of this proposal is that it can prevent the offending from escalating in a way that is damaging to everyone.