An obsessive stalker from Brighton harassed Sussex police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne for five years.
The Conservative politician spoke out as she and Sussex Police prepare for National Stalking Awareness Week on Monday (16 April).
The 53-year-old Brighton-educated police commissioner had the job of raising the issue with Sussex Police after 19-year-old Shana Grice, from Portslade, was murdered by a man who stalked her.
When Shana complained to Sussex Police about Michael Lane, she ended up being cautioned for wasting police time.
Despite her role as a police commissioner, Mrs Bourne found from personal experience that stalking was not being treated seriously enough.
Her case was handled by another force and, after initially ignoring what was happening, she ended up seeking an injunction through the civil courts to deal with a sustained and highly personal campaign.
Writing about her own case, Mrs Bourne said: “I have my own experience of fixated stalking over a five-year period which led me to seek an injunction against a local man who had followed me online and in person and written and posted hundreds of pages of false news and dozens of malicious videos.
“So I have every sympathy for the thousands of victims and I share their frustration when the system doesn’t respond in a compassionate and constructive way.
“That is why I am passionately committed to providing support to victims of stalking.
“It was clear from my review that a comprehensive response was required so I provided a two-year grant totalling £92,500, co-commissioned with Sussex Police, to fund a local specialist service provided by Veritas Justice for victims in Sussex.
“I am really pleased that Sussex Police have acknowledged their training and development needs and that senior officers are as committed as I am to ensuring the force understands stalking.
“One in five women and one in ten men will experience stalking at some stage in their life.
“It became recognised as a criminal offence in 2012 but, six years later, it is still not properly understood.
“Many police forces are still failing victims and this has also been the case in Sussex where we have sadly had some awful cases of stalking, one of which led to the murder of Shana Grice.
“More recently, we had the case of a St Leonards woman who was stalked and tormented by her own husband who was pretending to be someone else.
“I invested a large part of last year’s police precept (the amount you pay for policing in your council tax) into the Public Protection Unit and the force is now better equipped and better trained to recognise and deal with stalking.
“As a result of improvements to training for officers and prosecutors, last year Sussex Police saw an average 300 per cent increase in reports of stalking and three times as many cases have been solved compared to the previous 12 months.
“I will continue to raise awareness of stalking with all our statutory agencies to help give victims the confidence to report it and empower them to fight back.”
A week after Shana Grice’s stalker and killer Michael Lane was jailed for life, just over a year ago, Mrs Bourne raised the force’s handling of the case at a public meeting with Chief Constable Giles York.
Mrs Bourne said that a key challenge was to support frontline officers to understand the seriousness of the crimes of stalking and harassment when first described to them and how to join up the dots.
She said: “There’s a lot of learning to come out of the Shana Grice tragedy and I’m sure it won’t just be Sussex Police for which this is an issue. It will be officers up and down the country.”
Mr York said: “Stalking and harassment are difficult to prosecute and also to investigate and it’s about us joining up the dots.
“That’s the significant difference we’ve been trying to make … joining those dots together.
“We have already seen the beginning of an increase of recording of stalking in Sussex. So there is the beginning of green shoots of change coming through.
“Our officers weren’t joining those dots together from harassment into stalking and the sinister element which makes stalking different to harassment.”