During the early days of Sabine McNeill’s trial in which she was convicted of stalking four families in Hampstead, another high-profile case of stalking was making the UK news.
An article by Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, in which she describes her “six years of hell” as a stalking victim, bears a number of eerie similarities to the testimony we heard from the wholly blameless parents during Sabine’s trial. We’ve written before about Bourne’s convicted stalker, Matt Taylor, who has also enthusiastically promoted the Hampstead SRA hoax.
Bourne describes some of what she endured from Taylor:
I was harassed and abused almost daily online, with sick videos accusing me of every crime, then my stalker’s obsession moved into the real world.
He turned up at events uninvited, once filming me in secret and posting it on YouTube with his angry ranting and shouting.
The tipping point was when one of his disciples filmed my climbing harness lying next to the cliff edge just before a charity abseil.
The footage of my descent was posted on YouTube along with the alarming words of the main stalker “you should have slit her rope”.
As we wrote last spring, the dossier of evidence showing Taylor’s harassment of Bourne has also included:
- false online claims that she protected paedophiles;
- false statements that she had been having an affair with a colleague;
- false allegations that she had covered up the murder of a local woman;
- various doctored images, published online, including one of a woman’s body in a negligee with Bourne’s face pasted on;
- covert filming of Bourne when she was outside her home.
Much of this will sound horrifyingly familiar to anyone who recalls what the Hampstead hoax victims have endured.
Noting that she was used to the negative attention which could accompany the rough-and-tumble of local politics, Bourne describes her frustration with the lack of police response to stalking:
A lot of people still think of stalking as something that only spurned lovers or obsessed fans do, that it’s sad and slightly pathetic but relatively harmless.
While reports of stalking have rocketed, it is still regarded as a nuisance rather than a crime.
Too often, victims are told “don’t look at the online abuse”, or “just ignore it, they will get bored and go away”….
Similarly, during Sabine’s trial, it became clear that despite multiple reports to the police, the initial response was “just ignore them…block them, and they’ll give up and find someone else to bother”. Sabine’s first arrest in August 2015 resulted in a “no further action” decision on the part of police, sending the message that her actions would have no consequences.
It was pointed out during Sabine’s trial that the NFA decision simply encouraged her to step up her online harassment.
Just as parent witnesses talked about their terror at the mounting online campaign targeting them and their families, Bourne describes her growing fear as she was “subject to a cumulative pattern of unwanted attention”.
Bourne says she felt let down by the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided not to pursue her criminal complaint despite “hundreds of pages of evidence” she’d gathered, documenting “almost five years’ worth of obsession, his stated intentions to ‘take me down’ and displays of volatile behaviour in his own words and on video when I sought protection in the courts”.
As Bourne points out, the CPS decision not to prosecute sent the wrong message to her stalker, as it was determined that his behaviour towards her did not meet a threshold of seriousness or harm. As a result, he felt emboldened to continue his campaign against her.
Bourne was “lucky”: in the face of the criminal justice system’s failure to protect her, she obtained a civil injunction against Taylor, and when he violated it, he received a four-month sentence, suspended for two years. He’s not in prison, but should he violate the injunction again within the two-year time frame, he would face imprisonment.
However, even this watered-down outcome is far from the norm.
Bourne notes that although nearly 5 million people in the UK may become victims of stalking every year, only 780 cases were prosecuted, leading to 529 convictions, in 2015–16. This leaves the overwhelming majority of victims out in the cold, unprotected by the police and courts.
Stalking Protection Bill
Bourne advocates the adoption of the Stalking Protection Bill, which went to third reading in the House of Commons on 22 November 2018.
She writes: “The legislation would create Stalking Protection Orders that police could seek from the courts to act quickly — taking the onus off the victim. It would be a civil measure, putting restraints on contact and proximity, and to breach it would be a criminal offence with a punishment of up to five years”.
Stalking Protection Orders would not replace criminal trials, but would be used in the short term to afford stalking complainants more protection while the police collect further evidence.
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who is behind the Bill, told MPs: “Stalking is an insidious and dangerous crime with devastating consequences for victims and their families… murder in slow motion”.
During discussion of the Bill, MPs heard that one of the most important aspects of building a case for stalking is enabling complainants to quickly and consistently log incidents. This can prevent police from unduly focusing on single incidents, encouraging them instead to look at overall patterns of stalking behaviour.
MP Alex Chalk suggested that an app be put in place for use by stalking complainants, to enable them to log episodes and ensure that they’re received by the police. Chalk said, “An individual victim will always be better and more effective at recording the litany of incidences than the bureaucracy of the police”.
If you would like to support the Stalking Protection Bill, you can sign this petition on Change.org to show your support.
Updated: It turns out we’re a bit behind on the progress of the Stalking Protection Bill, which has already progressed to the House of Lords, where it’s due for second reading on 18 January. Well done to all who’ve helped the Bill get this far!