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Stalking advocacy group for victims launches

image captionStalking became an offence in England and Wales last year

An advocacy group for stalking victims in England and Wales - the first of its kind - is to be launched later.

Paladin aims to help victims by developing a co-ordinated community response to stalking.

It intends to campaign for restraining orders to be more effective, for statutory rights for victims and to urge a review of how family courts operate.

Its directors were among those who campaigned for a new stalking law.

Stalking became a specific criminal offence in England and Wales in November last year when the government introduced two offences - stalking and stalking involving a fear of violence.

The establishment of a national victims' advocacy scheme was a recommendation from the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform in February 2012.

In Scotland stalking was made an offence in 2010.

'Best protection'

Paladin's co-director Harry Fletcher, also the assistant general secretary of probation union Napo, said the advocacy group will risk assess the situation, liaise with police, the Probation Service, and the Crown Prosecution Service.

"We will actually intervene on [the victim's] behalf as well so we have got very, very good relationships already with the Police Federation and with individual police services.

"They need training desperately and we will assist with that as well."

The Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed Paladin, saying it would offer valuable support.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, Acpo's national policing lead on stalking and harassment, said: "The police service absolutely recognises the seriousness of stalking.

"The best way to protect victims of stalking is to use available legislation - especially the new offences of stalking - and to prosecute perpetrators. I hope that the launch of this service will signpost victims to report their concerns to the police in order to offer the best protection."

Mr Fletcher said that restraining orders needed to be strengthened and there needed to be a "thorough review of the family courts to prevent perpetrators from making vexatious applications for contact with their children when there is no hope of it being granted."

'Unbelievable' stalking

Co-director Laura Richards also called for training of all criminal justice professionals so "that stalking behaviour, which can maim and take lives, is taken more seriously".

Sam Taylor, a victim of stalking over a four-year period, described on BBC Radio 4's Today programme how her relationship broke down when she discovered her partner was on the sex offenders register for raping a 14-year-old girl.

During the stalking, she said he was arrested on many occasions, released on bailed or with restraining orders, and spent some time in custody.

Asked how intense the stalking was, she said: "It was just unbelievable."

She said it consisted of "endless phone calls", texts, including one which included an image of a noose, breaking into her house, and leaving his vehicle outside her parents' house for days.

"Initially I didn't know I was being stalked, I just knew I was terrified. Part of me was reluctant to go to police because I didn't want to get him into trouble."

But once she realised that this behaviour could be regarded as stalking, and she realised was at risk, she reported it to police.

Other help for stalking victims already exists, including the National Stalking Helpline, as well as domestic violence charities.

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