A specialist unit aimed at protecting victims of stalking and managing perpetrators has launched in Cheshire.
Only the second in the country - and the first of its kind in the North West - the integrated anti-stalking unit (IASU) is being run by Cheshire Police in partnership with North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
All agencies are working together to help stalking victims and the risk caused by perpetrators through a range of interventions.
The unit will operate from a base in Warrington and will initially focus on those affected by stalking in the Warrington and Halton areas.
It will involve an experienced and dedicated team of police officers and mental health professionals and outreach workers along with victim advocates who provide practical support, safety planning and advice for stalking victims regardless of whether the stalker’s identity is known.
Detective constable David Thomason, in charge of the IASU for the constabulary, said: “We are proud to be leading the way and working as part of the new unit – this is a first for the region and one of only three in the country.
“All agencies are working together to help provide better outcomes for stalking victims by improving the ways in which incidents are responded to and tackling the behaviour of perpetrators head on.
“The team of specialists will assess each stalking allegation on a case-by-case basis before deciding on a suitable method of intervention.
“The team will be able to discuss the best course of action and provide expert advice on whether psychological interventions, social support or legal sanctions are needed.
“The unit will offer victims one-to-one support while working closely with the perpetrator to ultimately manage the risk of further harm to the victim and the wider community.”
In addition, the unit will identify a critical few who could be suitable for therapeutic interventions, if clinically indicated or be referred to mental health, alcohol and drug support services.
The team will also decide whether the case should be automatically put into the criminal justice system. The unit will include a detective constable, consultant forensic psychologist, unit manager, two outreach workers, an independent stalking advocacy caseworker and a support officer (administrator).
It is being funded over two years through the Police Transformation Fund.
David Keane, police and crime commissioner for Cheshire, said: “I am proud that Cheshire Constabulary is one of only three forces across the country to receive this funding from the Police Transformation Fund to deliver this ground-breaking stalking project.
“I would like to see those who are responsible for this disturbing behaviour prosecuted and substantial prison sentences for offenders, but in isolation, the courts alone are insufficient to address the underlying motivations which fuel stalking behaviour.
“The unit will make a real difference, bringing together representatives from the police force, health and local authority to work with offenders to reduce repeat offending, and the impact their behaviour has on the victims.”
Detective chief superintendent Nigel Wenham, who is in charge of Cheshire Police’s public protection directorate, added: “Stalking can have a devastating impact on a victim both physically and mentally and can often result in fear, intimidation, violence or, in the worst cases, death.
“Stalking can quite simply turn their lives upside down and has been described by some as though being murdered in slow motion, mentally sexually assaulted or psychologically tormented.
“When cases of stalking are reported to us, it is imperative for staff and officers within the force to act on them swiftly and investigate the allegation effectively and thoroughly. While we have vastly improved our training to officers and staff to better identify and investigate stalking, this unit goes that one step further for victims.
“By having a dedicated and specialist team working directly together this will enable us to respond better and quicker to the allegation and find a suitable method of intervention.
“Sometimes we can’t do everything on our own and the unit enables one team to focus on an individual case to find the most suitable and accurate resolution for both the perpetrator and the victim.
“Whether that’s seeking a form of medical support or being dealt with by the criminal judicial system we can work as a partnership to help prevent further harm to the victim and the wider community.”
Simon Barber, chief executive at North West Boroughs Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, concluded: “We are proud to be working in partnership with our colleagues at Cheshire Police and Suzy Lamplugh Trust to deliver this innovative new service, working together to manage the risks associated with stalking and ultimately help to keep victims of stalking safer.”
“The multidisciplinary, integrated approach will support us to identify people who are showing signs of stalking behaviours and work with them to challenge these behaviours, as well as managing any underlying mental health issues that could be contributing to them.”