The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have published their report into the police's handling of Alice’s case prior to her murder in October 2016. We have some concerns about the length of time this investigation has taken and particularly the fact that the initial internal investigations by Northumbria Police came to very different conclusions. Nonetheless the IOPC report is thorough and we are satisfied with its acknowledgement that mistakes were made. We do not blame any of the officers involved—only one person is to blame for Alice’s murder—but we do feel that the police, like any agency, must acknowledge shortcomings if lessons are to be learned, and we are satisfied that this has now been done.
Many victims of stalking do not realise the danger they are in. By raising awareness of the seriousness of stalking, the Alice Ruggles Trust strives to encourage victims to go to the police as soon as stalking behaviour becomes apparent. It is crucial that the police then act appropriately and decisively. In particular:
- The police, CPS and judiciary have a duty to ensure that the existing stalking laws are understood and adhered to. Stalking is a crime. Stalking offences need to be recorded as such, and perpetrators need to be arrested and charged with stalking, not with harassment or individual offences. New Force Crime Registrar guidelines and the new CPS/NPCC protocol on stalking and harassment are quite clear on this issue. One of the most shocking things for her family was that Alice's second call to the police was crimed as a separate incident and not joined up to the first. It is imperative that existing procedures are followed in practice.
- No victim of stalking should be made to feel they are wasting police time, as Alice was, during her second phone call to the police. She was even recorded as not wanting Dhillon to be arrested, despite the fact that she really expected it to be automatic following a breach of the PIN, as she had been told in her first call to the police.
- No stalking victim should ever be asked "What do you want us to do about it?" The police have to be the experts.
- In stalking cases, breach of a restraining order must result in immediate arrest or other effective action to minimise the risk. Failure to do so sends the perpetrator the message that the police will not take any action against their continued stalking.
- Serial stalkers need to be identified and links made immediately to previous offences against different victims. This is why out Trust supports the Paladin’s campaign to introduce a serial perpetrators’ register.
We are pleased that several police forces including Northumbria are now making improvements to their procedures and implementing training packages, a number of them making reference to Alice’s story. But there is still a great deal of work to be done, and we will only know that there is real change when we see improvements in the statistics months and years down the line.