UK & World News
New Law To Tackle Stalkers Comes Into Effect
Campaigners are celebrating today after new anti-stalking legislation finally becomes law in England and Wales.
It is already illegal to stalk a person in Scotland, with the Scottish legal system changing in 2010, but it has taken until now for the laws to be introduced in England and Wales.
Campaigners claim the laws are now "harmonious" throughout the UK.
In England and Wales, it is estimated that 120,000 victims, mostly women, are stalked each year but only 53,000 are recorded as crimes by police and only one in 50 of those actually lead to an offender being jailed.
As there have been no anti-stalking laws in England and Wales until today, abusers were often charged with the less serious offence of harassment. This resulted in more lenient sentences of 12 months or less in prison, and many being granted community orders.
Since the law changed in Scotland the effect of tougher anti-stalking legislation is clear. Before the changes only 70 offenders were prosecuted over 10 years, but since 2010 the figure has soared to 443.
Ann Moulds, from Ayr, was stalked for almost three years by a man she thought was her friend.
When he heard about her stalker, he even offered her support and even offered to stay in her home to help protect her and make her feel safe in her home. All the time he was her stalker, bombarding her with sexually explicit texts, messages and phone calls.
Ann told Sky News: "I ended up where my home became a prison. I was terrified to go out, I kept the curtains closed, I even stopped putting on the television or playing music so I could listen if there were any sounds outside.
"I just couldn't see a future, I couldn't see an end to it all. I lost my friends, I lost lots of weight and I lost my hair."
"So when I discovered that my supportive friend was this crazy man who was stalking me it was total shock, disbelief, absolute betrayal and it took me a long, long time to understand how that kind of mind can work."
Ann's stalker was eventually prosecuted and Ann decided to campaign for a change in the law in Scotland. She founded Action Scotland Against Stalking and was instrumental in bringing in the anti-stalking legislation.
Now she is extending her campaign to the European Parliament, which is now looking at making anti-stalking laws compulsory throughout all European states.
While praising the changes coming in today in England and Wales, Ann said: " It's about harmonising stalking laws so abusers can't commit offences in one country then hide behind a lack of legislation in other countries.
"The campaign has lifted the lid off stalking and that helps the police, judges and the courts in dealing with abusers seriously. One in five men and women will become a victim of stalking in some form or another. We are not looking at a small problem."
Stalking is a growing problem, especially through social networking sites. Cyber stalkers falsely believe they have greater anonymity - but protection rights are tightening up.
Digital stalking expert Jennifer Perry told Sky News: "The more prosecutions we hand out, the more people that are harassing individuals will hopefully think twice about it."