Amendment 148A

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 26 February 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour 6:15, 26 February 2024

My Lords, I support Amendments 148A and 148B. I am late to participate in this Bill, for which I apologise, but, as has been said, I am not late to debates on the insidious crime of stalking—a gateway to rape, serious harm and murder in slow motion. I have read the excellent exchanges on earlier amendments to this Bill on stalking.

Stalkers must be put before the courts, and sentences must reflect the seriousness of the crime. When stalkers are released from prison, given the nature of their obsessive and fixated behaviour, stringent measures must be placed on them to close down all opportunities to reoffend. As part of this, they must be automatically managed by MAPPA and included on ViSOR, soon to be MAPPS, so that their information can be shared and accessed nationally.

In the past I have often cited the horrific case of Zoe Dronfield. Jason Smith almost succeeded in murdering her in her home in 2014. He is up again before the Parole Board for release this year. Zoe is terrified for herself and her children. Smith was not rehabilitated 10 years prior to her attack after the horrific abuse of an ex who was a serving West Midlands police officer. He went on to abuse other women until he targeted Zoe. Currently, Zoe knows very little about the release plan. Smith has never admitted trying to kill Zoe, so how can he be deemed safe for release? She does not know whether she is marked at high risk, whether he is still vengeful towards her or whether he will be tagged. No measures have been put in place for her, and she feels like a sitting duck.

How can this be right? He must be added to ViSOR and managed by MAPPA, and every opportunity for his reoffending against Zoe, her children and future women must be closed down. Many stalkers change their name by deed poll. He must not be allowed to do that either. Positive obligations must be placed on him, including not to change his name. I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that this case will be looked at so that Zoe does not have to live in fear.

In January there were two horrific cases of stalking by two vengeful men. Thirty year-old Bryce Hodgson was shot by armed officers in Southwark after he broke into the intended victim’s home. He was armed with crossbows, a knife, a hatchet and a sword and was wearing body armour. There was no doubt that he was there to kill the victim, and most likely others if they got in his way—people who might have been trying to protect her. He had already threatened the police. As soon as I heard about this case, I wondered about his background. No one wakes up one day and starts behaving like this in the third decade of life. From everything I have learned about male violence towards women and children, I believed that he would have a history.

Sure enough, it came to light that he was a convicted stalker. He had been convicted of stalking a woman last June and was subject to a five-year restraining order. Croydon Magistrates’ Court heard last year how Hodgson had entered the victim’s bedroom without consent, sent text messages demanding that she open her door to him and described his vivid sexual fantasies to her. He pleaded guilty, but was spared a custodial sentence with a 16-week suspended prison sentence; he was ordered to undergo 12 months of supervision and carry out 120 hours of community service.

He was the most dangerous type of stalker—a predatory stalker with sexual fantasies that he was acting on when he broke into the victim’s bedroom. He was one of the rare few who are arrested and charged but, rather than put him before the court for a Section 4A stalking offence for putting the victim in fear of her life, and despite his being one of the most dangerous types of stalker, the CPS put him before a magistrates’ court on a Section 2A stalking charge. Notwithstanding the wrong charge, he clearly should have been put on a register.

In another case, on 31 January a woman and her two children were attacked by Abdul Ezedi near Clapham Common. He threw a corrosive alkaline substance at the woman, who we now know was in a relationship with the suspect. She was there with her daughters; she suffered what are likely to be life-changing injuries. Five police officers were injured as they responded, as were four members of the public. This attack was targeted, pre-planned and premeditated. Ezedi stalked the victim and intended to cause her maximum distress, pain and suffering when he threw that corrosive substance at her and her two girls. He then picked up the three year-old girl and tried to kill her.

There is always a history. In 2018, Ezedi was convicted of one charge of sexual assault and one of exposure, before being granted asylum in 2020. He received a nine-week jail term, suspended for two years, for this sexual assault and, for the exposure, 36-weeks’ imprisonment to be served consecutively—which was also suspended for two years. Why was he not included on ViSOR? This has been repeatedly raised following countless horrific murders, including those of Jane Clough, Shana Grice, Hollie Gazzard, Alice Ruggles, Janet Scott, Laura Mortimer and her 11 year-old daughter Ella Dalby, and Cheryl Gabriel-Hooper, whose 14 year-old daughter was present when Andrew Hooper shot her mother dead. Hooper had a history of abusing and stalking his ex; he broke into her house in the middle of the night wearing gloves and armed with a knife. He pleaded guilty to affray and received a suspended sentence—this was stalking. Cheryl also reported him to the police for coercively controlling and stalking her and her daughter. The abuse escalated when she finally left him for good.

Separation is the highest risk time for a woman fleeing a coercive controller and stalker. We know from research and analysis of domestic homicides that if a stalker makes a threat—which Hooper did—one in two stalkers acts on that threat; that is 50%. These are the most dangerous of perpetrators, and yet his violent history was not joined up by the police. He should have been on a register, which would mean that they had to check on the perpetrator’s history.

Laura Mortimer and her 11 year-old daughter, Ella Dalby, were stabbed to death in my home city of Gloucester, on 28 May 2018, by Christopher Boon. He had a history of assaulting a previous partner and her mother, in front of two children. He received a suspended sentence for this very serious offence. Boon was a fantasist who was £28,000 in debt, and he coerced Laura into putting her income into his bank account. She reported him to the police. She was too scared to pursue a prosecution but she did ask about his history, using Clare’s law. She was told that it could not be shared, and she was sent away. Days before the murders, Laura learnt that Boon was cheating on her and she told him to leave the house. He escalated his behaviour and stabbed Laura 18 times and her 11 year-old daughter 24 times. Women are not told about these dangerous and violent men’s histories even when they report serious violence and abuse at their hands.

A new database, MAPPS, is being developed, which will replace ViSOR, and we have MAPPA, the public protection panels which police, prison and probation officers, and other agencies attend. Stalkers must be proactively identified, assessed and managed by MAPPA. Stalking experts must attend MAPPA meetings to ensure that these dangerous men are diagnosed, assessed and managed. The same tactics must be applied to serial and dangerous domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers as to organised criminals and sex offenders. Early identification, assessment and management are vital to cut off opportunities for them to cause harm, and to ensure that they face the consequences of their actions.

Currently, the law relies on victims to report the individual crimes, and the police do not flag and tag serial and high-risk perpetrators. Instead, they focus on the victims—and this does not happen with any other crime. Police must index and share information with victims about serial abusers. Each police force must proactively identify 10 to 20 serial and dangerous domestic abusers, ensure that their information is included on the local police intelligence database, and refer cases to MAPPA. Convicted stalkers must be placed on ViSOR. The postcode lottery mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, must end.

I hope the Minister does not refer to guidance, which is so often a response to questions about stalking. I hope we are not told that more lessons need to be learned; too many women have been murdered. We know what needs to be done. We do not need guidance, we need action.

The extraordinary Laura Richards, who has done more than anyone else in the world to try to protect women and their children from stalkers, started a petition to include serial domestic abusers and stalkers on ViSOR and be managed by MAPPA. Some 274,698 people have now signed this petition, including victims, bereaved families and professionals. I ask the Minister: when will the Government act?