Stalkers target victims '100 times before being reported'

Alex Lovell
Image caption BBC Points West presenter Alex Lovell was repeatedly sent threatening letters

Stalking victims can be targeted at least 100 times before they raise the alarm, a police expert has said.

Wiltshire's deputy chief constable Paul Mills, said academic studies indicate the delay is down to individual acts by a stalker seeming unimportant.

Mr Mills, the national police lead on stalking, said : "Individual instances can often feel innocuous, [like] somebody phoning or leaving flowers."

Nationally, reports of stalking rose from 4,000 in 2015 to 10,000 in 2017.

Mr Mills said police were working to better understand the pattern of behaviour of stalkers.

The rise in reports have risen dramatically through greater awareness of the problem and high-profile stalking cases, he added.

'Threatened risk'

One victim was BBC Points West presenter Alex Lovell, who was sent letters for more than six years by stalker Gordon Hawthorn.

Between January 2016 and March 2018, letters from Hawthorn, 69, of Street, Somerset, became very threatening, leaving Ms Lovell feeling "frightened and miserable".

He was jailed in January for two and a half years.

"What history has shown us that it could be one part of behaviour that spans a whole period of time," Mr Mills said.

Academic research showed people only came forward after experiencing seemingly minor incidents "at least 100 times".

"On it's own it can be very, very limited but putting it together there's threatened risk there," Mr Mills explained.

Image caption Mr Mills said staff were being encouraged to use a checklist to establish a stalker's pattern of behaviour

"[But] if left unchecked, the key to this type of behaviour is fixation and that can grow very, very quickly and as a result the risk can rise.

"In the worst cases, in cases known as femicide, where females are killed by men, there is a high incidence of stalking and prior to ultimately sadly losing their lives."

Police are now being encouraged to use the mnemonic Four - or fixated, obsessive, unwanted, repeated behaviour - to gauge stalking behaviour.

Mr Mill said that when these apparent "innocuous occasions" begin to have an impact on somebody's life, victims needed to report them to police at the earliest opportunity.

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