The parents of a woman, stabbed to death by a former work colleague who she had previously reported to the police for stalking her, say they have "got to make a change" to protect other victims.
An inquest jury concluded that Gracie Spinks, 23, was unlawfully killed by Michael Sellers, 35, in Duckmanton, Derbyshire, on June 18 2021, months after she had reported him to Derbyshire Police for stalking and harassing her.
In his report to Derbyshire Constabulary and Home Secretary James Cleverley, Coroner Matthew Kewley said there was a lack of consistency in police forces’ abilities to investigate stalking reports nationwide and warned that victims faced a "postcode lottery" if they reported their concerns.
Appearing on BBC Breakfast Gracie's parents, Alison Ward and Richard Spinks, said many young girls, women and men are "afraid" to report concerns to the police in case they are not treated seriously.
They are now pressing ahead with plans for Gracie’s law to help other victims.
"We want to see all police forces reacting the same, not a postcode lottery," Spinks explains. "If somebody makes a stalking report in London, it should be the same in Leeds, Aberdeen, Plymouth, wherever.
"I don’t know why they can’t all do the same and have the same procedures in place to deal with stalking so that the police officers are trained and know what to do."
The couple say the support they have received since their daughter’s death helps them stay focused on their plans to help other stalking victims.
"We have got to make a change – if we can just stop one more death then we have achieved something," Mrs Ward says.
"Stalking is overlooked as a crime and people live in fear, they have to change their lifestyles and it’s horrendous.
"Since we lost Gracie it has really been highlighted – we didn’t realise how much of a bigger problem it was for both men and women."
Mr Spinks adds: "We want to make a difference, Gracie’s law is about making changes."
Stalking: the facts
Victim Support says stalking can happen to anyone and can be described as persistent and unwanted attention that makes you feel pestered and harassed.
"A stalker can be a former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, an acquaintance, work colleague, or a stranger," the website reads.
"It [stalking] includes behaviour that happens two or more times, directed at or towards you by another person, which causes you to feel alarmed or distressed or to fear violence might be used against you."
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Crime Survey for England and Wales 2022, stalking and harassment offences rose to 718,317 offences, which was a 7% increase compared with the year ending June 2021.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity which supports stalking victims, estimates that only 0.1% of cases lead to a conviction.
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How can you tell if you are being stalked?
While there is no legal definition of stalking in England and Wales, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust defines it as: a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.
"Stalking behaviour is unwanted and repetitive, and it is almost always carried out (or orchestrated by) one individual towards another individual," explains Violet Alvarez, from the policy and campaigns team at the charity.
Stalking is a widespread crime impacting one in five women and one in 10 men in their lifetimes across England and Wales, similar figures to domestic abuse cases.
Alvarez says stalking is a crime of psychological terror that impacts on all aspects of a victim’s life, often in ways that are long-lasting and traumatic.
"Research conducted by Sussex Stalking Support and the National Centre for Cyberstalking Research at the University of Bedfordshire in conjunction with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, indicates that around one in five victims of stalking experience symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the aftermath of being stalked," she explains.
"As many as 91% reported that they suffered from mental health problems following the experience of being stalked, while 78% met the clinical criteria for PTSD."
Alvarez says stalking can have far-reaching consequences.
"It is very common for victims to move home, change their careers, lose their relationships and social lives, have significant financial impacts from being stalked, and to live with being anxious and hypervigilant for years after the stalking has ended," she explains.
Stalking: the law
As of 25 November 2012, amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act were made that make stalking a specific offence in England and Wales for the first time.
Meanwhile, in January 2020 new Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) allowed courts in England and Wales to act faster to ban stalkers from contacting victims or visiting their home, place of work or study.
In addition to banning perpetrators from approaching or contacting their victims, SPOs can also force stalkers to seek professional help.
The orders will usually last for a minimum of two years, with a breach counting as a criminal offence that can result in up to five years in prison.
What to do if you think you are being stalked
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust website has some overall tips and advice for those who suspect they are being stalked.
Do not engage with your stalker in any way.
Talk to family, friends, neighbours, colleagues or your manager about the harassment if you feel comfortable doing so. They may be able to help by collecting further evidence on your behalf or by putting protective measures in place.
Be aware of how much of your personal information is in the public domain and take steps to protect your data.
Above everything, trust your instincts.
What to do if you are being physically stalked
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust recommends the following:
Consider carrying a personal alarm.
Vary your daily routine and take different routes to and from work.
Know where the nearest safe location is, for instance a police station. But, if there isn't one nearby, you could use a 24-hour supermarket with security guards and CCTV.
Talk to the police about using CCTV and/or installing a panic button at your home.
Consider installing an alarm system.
Ensure all your doors and windows are locked before you leave home or go to sleep.
Tips and advice from Suzy Lamplugh if you think you're experiencing cyber stalking
Change your passwords frequently and don't use the same password for everything.
Get your computer checked for malware and key logging software.
Limit the amount of information you share about yourself on social networking sites and check your privacy settings to ensure you are not giving away more information about yourself than you intend to.
Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.
Report any stalking activity on websites to the administrators. If they won't act, contact the web hosting company.
You can find more information here
"We regard both online and offline behaviours as forms of stalking, whether that be unwanted communication via social media, following or vexatious complaints," Alvarez adds.
"If you are experiencing cyberstalking we advise you to document all communication from the stalker and get specialist help if you think your devices have been hacked."
If you’re in immediate danger, you should call 999.
If you are a victim of stalking, we always urge you to get specialist support from the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300 or visit our website at www.suzylamplugh.org
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Additional reporting PA.