OPINION
15/04/2021 06:00 BST

We Have A Chance To Get Serious On Stalking. The Government Aren’t Taking It

First they promised to act on violence against women and girls. Now ministers will try to overturn measures that would do exactly that, writes Labour’s Yvette Cooper.

Only weeks ago, the House of Lords overwhelmingly voted for plans to add convicted serial domestic abusers and stalkers to the high risk offenders register, so that the police and specialist agencies can work together to prevent them from offending again. 

Yet despite initially appearing to accept the plans, ministers are now calling on MPs to vote to drop them this week.

This is a big mistake and means losing the chance to monitor and manage some of the most dangerous convicted perpetrators who pose the greatest risk to women. I hope MPs on all sides will press the government to change its mind and to support Amendment 42 in order to prevent more women being put at risk from dangerous abuse. 

Too often when awful crimes against women happen, it emerges afterwards how many times the perpetrator had offended against other women before. Yet no one joined up the dots and nothing was done to stop them moving from one victim to the next, with the violence and abuse getting worse each time.

Hollie Gazzard was stalked and murdered by a man who was involved in 24 previous violent offences, including 12 on an ex-partner. Hollie reported him to the police many times, but there was no proactive risk assessment or management despite the perpetrator’s previous violent offences. 

Linzi Ashton was raped, strangled and murdered by a man who had strangled two previous partners but his repeat pattern of abuse towards women was not joined up. 

Jane Clough, an A&E nurse, was stalked and then murdered by her violent ex-partner even though she had warned police she feared he would kill her. He had been charged with rape and assault and had a history of abusing other women. He wasn’t on the high risk offenders register, and the police were not monitoring him. 

Serial abusers pose the most serious risks of violence to women and girls, yet there is no proper system for identifying them, monitoring them or managing the risks.

We urgently need stronger action against serial abusers like these – they pose the most serious risks of violence to women and girls, yet there is no proper system for identifying them, monitoring them or managing the risks.

Other serious violent and sexual offenders are placed on a high risk offenders register, with statutory Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements in place for the police to coordinate with other agencies to prevent them committing further serious crimes. But too many repeat domestic abusers and stalkers are not included and there is too little recognition of the way in which some perpetrators of violence against women move from victim to victim with violence escalating each time.

That is why campaigners including Laura Richards, a former violent crime analyst for the Met Police and founder of Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service, have been calling for legislation to extend the existing protection and monitoring arrangements to cover a new group of offenders – serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. Hundreds of thousands of people have supported the petition to bring these measures in, including leading campaigners for women’s safety and families who have been affected by some of these terrible crimes. 

Last summer I put forward amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to include these plans alongside a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy. Baroness Jan Royall put forward similar proposals last month in the House of Lords and persuaded an overwhelming majority of peers to support them and to add them to the Bill.  

We had hoped government ministers would agree. The home secretary, Priti Patel, told me last month “there is something about perpetrators and their serial offending that has to be addressed, there is no question about that at all”. But instead of taking action, we have now learnt that the Government is only proposing more guidance. They do intend to draw up a perpetrators strategy – but not for another year. Their plans currently do not include stalking and they don’t plan to change the law on registering, monitoring and managing those who have already repeatedly committed these awful crimes.

This isn’t enough. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road. The government must act now to prevent further abuse and protect future victims. We need a coherent, coordinated national system, with an obligation on the police, prison and probation services to proactively identify, assess and manage these perpetrators in the same way they currently do for other dangerous offenders. 

We do not have to be passive in the face of escalating violence. Violent criminals must not be allowed to keep re-offending with impunity, wrecking more and more lives. If the government is serious about protecting women and girls from the most serious violence and the most dangerous of perpetrators, they must support our amendment today.

Yvette Cooper is the Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford