NEW POWERS will be used by police as Sussex reported the highest rate of stalker cases outside London.

Officers and detectives can now apply to magistrates for Stalking Protection Orders (SPO) to give victims extra protection.

Police chiefs say it means offenders could find themselves in court on the same day that victims come forward to report their fears.

Today, a 22-year-old from Lancing was the first in the country to be put under an SPO order by magistrates.

Sussex Police have been keen to turn around their reputation after an Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation found failings in how it handled the murder of Shana Grice who was killed by her ex-partner and stalker Michael Lane in Mile Oak in 2015.

Detective Chief Inspector David Springett said officers in Sussex have learned lessons of how stalking can lead to serious crimes if it is not tackled quickly.

He said: “Our awareness and understanding of stalking was not as good as it should have been, but we are very much in a stronger position now to recognise and identify stalking behaviours and do something about them.

“We will safeguard victims, and carry out thorough investigations to hold perpetrators to account.”

He said that victims who are found to be at risk can expect a SPO order to be put in place immediately.

Meanwhile, those who may not be deemed at risk at first can report new behaviour which will also be reviewed by officers.

They can then be referred to services to help protect them and support them.

DCI Springett said SPOs can be a vital first step but said the force would continue to get stalkers convicted for their crimes in court.

The new power was welcomed by “Sarah”, a victim of stalking who The Argus agreed not to identify.

She said she has suffered controlling and stalking behaviour from her ex-partner, and said an SPO order could have stopped months of hassle and unwanted contact.

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said it was not a “silver bullet” but said: “SPOs are a welcome step in the right direction, and will provide victims with peace of mind, knowing that they are being taken seriously.

“As a society we have got to take a stand against this kind of behaviour, it is wrong.”

DCI Springett said another SPO order could be imposed in court this week.

An investigation into the 22-year-old from Lancing will continue.

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