Baroness Sal Brinton writes about her work with Protection Against Stalking and why she nominated the charity for the Charity Champion 'National Charity of the year' award.
Protection Against Stalking (PAS) won the 2012 Charity Champions 'National Charity of the Year' Award for their outstanding work with parliamentarians to get a change to the legislation for harassment and stalking offences.
Their campaign, which took a mere fifteen months, was an exemplar of good practice. This tiny charity, whose trustees are either the victims of stalking, or their surviving families, and is run by Laura Richards. Laura, a former Met police officer, developed the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH 2009) Risk Identification, Assessment and Management Model that is currently being rolled out across police and partner agencies in the UK.
PAS joined forces with the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), and specifically with Harry Fletcher (NAPO assistant general secretary), who brought considerable campaigning experience to the team.
What PAS and Napo understood – and what the parliamentary world hadn’t understood – was that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 hadn’t provided the support needed for victims of stalking. The definition of harassment, as interpreted by the courts, tended to cover neighbourhood disputes, about,say, the heights of hedges, or to be used against demonstrators, rather than protection vulnerable women who had often been stalked over many years, with tragically some culminating in the murder of the victims.
Laura Richards said:
"We knew we had a difficult job to inform MPs and Peers about the reality of the 1997 Act. We were helped with the change in stalking legislation in Scotland in 2010, but many MPs were sceptical about the relevance for us, given that most police forces thought they managed the problem well."
Harry Fletcher said:
"We realized that we had to have parliamentarians from all parties looking at this, so we proposed a unique committee, chaired by Elfyn Llwyd MP, which took evidence from the many female victims and experts, over a number of months".
Elfyn Llwyd MP said:
"It was absolutely clear that the need to change the law should happen. Some of the members who joined the Inquiry changed their view during the taking of evidence. This meant that we were able to submit a unanimous report to the Prime Minister, with very specific changes to create an offence of stalking. The Prime Minister’s support was also key."
Various probing amendments in the Lords for the Protection of Freedoms Bill (from myself and Baronesses Royall) initiated the debate, following which the government tabled a number of its own amendments, which were passed in to law in March. The new law against stalking takes effect later this year, and Protection against Stalking is involved in training throughout the criminal justice system to ensure that the police, magistrates and judges are ready for the changes.
What was most effective in this campaign was the absolute understanding to win hearts and minds, and to find a vehicle to identify what needed to be changed. By small legislative changes, and by larger cultural changes, a significant amendment to the law will save lives and transform lives. Not many small charities can claim that as an achievement, let alone within 15 months of launching their campaign. That is why I nominated them for the Charity Champions 'National Charity of the year' award.