Alex Chalk MP and Richard Graham MP have now launched their report on stalking sentences. The report outlines their case for the government to allow greater flexibility in stalking sentences – and specifically to extend the maximum penalty for a 4A (Protection from Harassment Act 1997) stalking offence from five years to a suggested ten years.
Their decision to do the research and write the report began when His Honour Judge Tabor QC ruled on the case of Dr Eleanor Aston, a Cheltenham GP who practiced in Gloucester. She was stalked for seven years by a former patient. HHJ Tabor QC sentenced stalker Raymond Knight to five years’ imprisonment in May 2015, the maximum sentence for stalking. He stated that if he could have given a longer sentence he would have done. He had no doubt that the stalker posed a “significant risk in future terms of causing her serious harm.”
The report lays out the MPs’ recommendations and reasoning, concluding that the extension is needed both for victim safety and trust in the judicial system. Research by national stalking charity Paladin found that 42% of offenders convicted and subject to a restraining order have gone on to re-offend. The MPs argue that this reflects that current sentences are not sufficient to break patterns of often obsessive behaviour in stalkers. The MPs met others who have also been stalked, and their families during their research.
Alex Chalk, MP for Cheltenham said: “Stalking destroys lives. And yet the maximum sentence for this offence is just 5 years’ imprisonment - less than you can get for stealing a Mars Bar. It’s time for the punishment to fit the crime.”
Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester said: “When you hear the details of how individual lives have been damaged – in some cases destroyed – it is hard not to see why we need greater flexibility in sentencing. We’re asking the government to support victims of this horrendous crime better.”
Dr Eleanor Aston said: “I’m delighted to be here to support the launch of a report that highlights the devastating impact on our and others' lives that stalkers can have, and the anomalies in stalking sentencing. The report also shows how committed Alex and Richard are. They're determined to do something to help, they've done this report together and they aim to change the law. I totally support that.”
Charles Wade, Retired Circuit Judge said: “This is a serious piece of work, stalking is a very serious issue and I'm pleased that ministers are engaging with Richard and Alex on the issue.”
Laura Richards, Founder and Director of the national stalking advocacy service Paladin said: "Stalking is both insidious and terrifying. Stalking is about fixation and obsession and most campaigns of stalking last years. Sentences must reflect the serious nature of the crime and also allow for appropriate treatment to take place. We have been campaigning for sentencing guidelines, which are now being developed, as well as for extending sentences for stalking. These recommendations will save lives and money. We hope that the government is listening and the recommendations are considered and progressed."
The MPs are campaigning for the amendment to stalking legislation to be considered for any future Criminal Justice Bill.