POLICE in Sussex have recorded the highest number of stalking reports for anywhere in the country apart from London.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards of the force's Public Protection Command said officers are "advising and supporting more victims than ever".

It comes after a new law was passed last year which aims to give greater protection for victims of stalking.

Sussex Police became the first force in the country to enforce a Stalking Protection Order (SPO) when the law came into effect in January 2020.

In the past year there has since been 29 court orders in the county, and seven applications are currently awaiting court hearings.

Immediate restrictions are placed on anyone subject to an SPO to safeguard and reassure victims.

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DCI Richards said: "These orders, which we seek from magistrates, have been an important development in helping us to better protect victims in stalking cases.

"Subjects can be prohibited from contacting the named person on the order by any means, directly or indirectly. This includes contact in person, telephone calls, letters, emails, messages and social media.

"They can also be prohibited from entering into an agreed exclusion zone, be that an area within the town or county. This would include where the victim works and usual routes taken, such as walking children to school."

An SPO is not an alternative to prosecution for stalking offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. It can be used to strengthen prosecutions, as well as safeguarding victims.

Magistrates can impose fines and up to one year in prison for anyone found to be in breach of an SPO. At Crown Court, perpetrators who have broken restrictions could face a fine and up to five years in prison.

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DCI Richards added: "In Sussex we are already recording the second highest number of stalking reports anywhere in the UK outside London, and are now advising and supporting more victims than ever.

"With better awareness and enhanced training our approach is more robust in keeping people safe. We encourage victims to come forward with the knowledge our officers and staff are better trained and they take all reports seriously."

In 2016, teenage student Shana Grice was murdered by her ex-boyfriend Michael Lane after she had reported incidents of Lane stalking her five times in the previous six months.

The 19-year-old had been fined £90 for wasting police time, just two months before her death at her home in Mile Oak.

The former PC who issued the fine, Trevor Godfrey, was found guilty of misconduct by Sussex Police in July last year.

The Argus: Sussex Police are working hard to stamp out stalkingSussex Police are working hard to stamp out stalking

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne described stalking as "an insidious crime that destroys lives".

She said: "I’m pleased Sussex Police are continuing to lead the way in the number of Stalking Protection Orders issued.

“They give victims reassurance their situation is being taken seriously by allowing police officers to take swift and decisive action against perpetrators and put restrictions in place.

"It also means officers can then enforce any breaches where necessary, thus providing added protection for victims.

“We are also soon to launch the county’s first Stalking Perpetrator Programme, meaning those who are issued an SPO will also receive vital specialist interventions to address and break the cycle of their fixated behaviours.”

Victims can report stalking or harassment online or by calling police on 101, or in person at a police station.

The National Stalking Helpline provides advice to current or former victims of stalking or harassment, on 0808 802 0300.