07/12/2016 00:01 GMT | Updated 07/12/2016 09:47 GMT

Court Orders Aim To 'Stop Stalkers In Their Tracks' Before Trouble Escalates

Stalkers will be hit with court orders as soon as their victims raise the alarm under a new crackdown.

Ministers are set to hand police powers to apply for measures to stop perpetrators who torment strangers, acquaintances or work colleagues before their fixations spiral out of control.

Under the plans, suspects could be ordered to stay away from their targets or have their internet use restricted even if they have not yet been arrested or charged. 

Stalking Protection Orders will be available whether or not there are criminal proceedings so victims are given protection as soon as they seek help from authorities, while investigators gather evidence ahead of possible prosecution.

They are aimed particularly at halting "stranger stalking" before it escalates and build on Domestic Violent Protection Orders, which were rolled out in 2014 to clamp down on abusive partners and spouses. 

One example of how the new orders could be used is to protect professionals such as doctors who are targeted by patients. 

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: "Stalking can have devastating consequences and I am determined that we do all we can to protect victims from these prolonged and terrifying campaigns of abuse that can last years, leaving many people too afraid to leave their homes and unable to get on with their lives.

"Four years ago this Government created specific stalking offences to ensure those responsible face justice. Today I want to go even further and offer protection at the first signs of stalking, stopping offenders in their tracks."

Under the regime police will be able to apply to courts for the orders to impose restrictions on perpetrators, such as a requirement to stay away from their victim.

They could also face limits on their use of the internet following fears that the explosion in social networking and online communities has helped fuel a rise in cases.

Other conditions could see stalkers required to attend a rehabilitation programme or seek treatment for mental health issues.

Breaching the orders will be a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Statistics suggest one in five women and one in ten men will be affected by stalking in their lifetime, while the National Stalking Helpline has responded to almost 14,000 calls since it was established in 2010.

In the 12 months to June 2016, police recorded 4,168 stalking offences, an increase of 32% on the previous year.

Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, National Police Chiefs' Council lead for stalking and harassment, said: "We want to stop stalkers in their tracks.

"The launch of stalking protection orders will help us intervene earlier and place controls on perpetrators to prevent their behaviour escalating while the crime is investigated."

The government will seek to legislate to introduce the new orders - first proposed in a consultation that ended in February - as soon as parliamentary time allows, the Home Office said.