The tragic murder of Shana Grice by her stalker has led to improvements at Sussex Police but problems remain, inspectors have found.
Shana had been stalked by ex-boyfriend Michael Lane in the lead up to her killing and police were heavily criticised for how they handled the case.
Lane, then 27, of Portslade, was convicted of her murder in 2017 and jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years.
Two years on, inspectors have found that Sussex Police's approach to stalking and harassment incidents has improved.
However they said that 'stalking and harassment cases are not always investigated effectively' and 'many victims of these crimes do not receive the support they require'.
A report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) into Sussex Police was published this morning.
Why is stalking such a focus for Sussex Police?
Assistant Chief Constable Nick May said: “Following the tragic death of Shana Grice who was murdered at her home in Portslade in 2016, we are committed to improving our understanding of stalking and harassment and our response to it."
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne commissioned inspections by HMICFRS in order to ensure that there is no repeat of the failings that contributed to Shana's death.
Since then, the number of stalking crimes recorded by Sussex Police has spiked. Incidents increased by 98 per cent in the 12 months to September 30, 2018, according to the report.
What did inspectors find this time?
Her Majesty's Inspector Wendy Williams said: “We found that Sussex Police has made some significant improvements to the way that it deals with stalking and harassment crimes.
“There is still work the force has to do, however. Despite some cases being dealt with well, there were still more that could have been handled better.
"Following the murder of Shana Grice, the force developed a stalking and harassment improvement plan. This is a positive step and the force needs to continue to develop this and ensure that all victims receive an appropriate and consistent service.
“We have now made further recommendations for the force to respond to. I am encouraged by the commitment we have already seen from the force but want to see further improvements to the service it provides to victims of stalking and harassment.”
Inspectors find causes for concern
A spokesman for HMICFRS identified several areas of concern: "We are concerned that in cases of non-domestic abuse stalking or harassment, the force does not make risk assessments and therefore the force might not be properly protecting victims from the danger of becoming repeat victims.
"We are concerned that Sussex Police does not use the power of entry and search effectively, and therefore stalking investigations are not as thorough as they could be.
"We are concerned that Sussex Police is not properly protecting some victims of stalking or harassment who have been victimised online because: officers record some of these crimes incorrectly as malicious communications only and/or the crime prevention advice the force gives to victims is not always
"We are concerned that Sussex Police’s response to victims of stalking or harassment is not always as effective and consistent as it could be. This is because not all officers have received enhanced stalking training."
Sussex Police pleased with improvements and promises to grow
Responding to the report, Sussex Police welcomed the investigators view that they had made 'significant improvements' and promised to work on the areas highlighted.
ACC Nick May said: “The report acknowledges that we have significantly improved our understanding of what stalking and harassment is, and what our response should be. It also sets out where there is even more work to do and we accept this.
“Stalking and harassment has a long-term and debilitating effect on victims and we will continue to make improvements to ensure people are safe and can feel safe, and bringing perpetrators to justice.
"We are pleased that victims have the confidence to contact us so we can help support and protect them, even if this doesn’t mean that a prosecution is the final outcome.”
Sussex PCC: It is clear there is much more work to do on stalking
Sussex police commissioner Katy Bourne - who is elected by the public to hold Sussex Police to account - said she was pleased with the progress the force has made.
But she added: "It is clear there is much more the force can do and needs to do if victims of stalking are to receive the service which I firmly believe they deserve. HMICFRS’s observations show that Sussex is committed to a journey of improvement and is probably further down that path than many other forces nationally.
"Having read the report, I can see there are five key areas that we need to discuss: the police (including a victim’s own) knowledge and understanding of stalking; police procedures including recording incidents correctly and making appropriate risk assessments; and the capacity within the victim support system to provide specialist local services.
"I am pleased to say that the Victims Minister has asked me to present to him our collective thoughts and recommendations from the roundtable so that PCCs can work with Government to inform the national response to stalking and harassment and ensure that victims are given the best advice, the necessary protection and the most appropriate support."