'Stalking is a horrific crime, it steals your life...'

STALKING is "the new frontline in the battle against crime", a police conference heard.

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Ann Moulds said stalking "steals your life"
Ann Moulds said stalking "steals your life"

Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year Ann Moulds, who successfully campaigned for tougher anti-stalking laws after her own horrific experience, was one of the keynote speakers at the groundbreaking event.

Around 200 police officers from every territorial and specialist division across Scotland attended Crossing the Line, an awareness seminar held at a police centre in Fife.

It was the first event of its kind to bring together police, prosecutors, victims and health professionals involved in tackling stalking.

Other speakers included the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Office's (COPFS) national lead for stalking, Les Brown, and Dr Katherine Russell and Dr Rajan Darjee, from NHS Lothian's Serious Offender Liaison Service.

Ann, who was named Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year in February, said: "Stalking is a real crime, with real fear and when I first started out, the system was totally disconnected from people whose lives were being destroyed.

"Now the legislation is in place, we need to focus on more education, more training and more support for victims."

The packed hall at Tulliallan fell silent as Ann retold her story.

For two years, Ann's stalker sent her disgusting letters and disturbing photographs, made silent calls to her home in the early hours of the morning and threatened her with violence and rape.

Stalking was not considered a crime so her initial pleas for help were ignored and when the case eventually came to court, the perpetrator was given a lenient sentence.

In the aftermath, Ann was forced to move 80 miles from her home, losing her business and leaving behind friends and family, while her stalker was free to continue with his life.

Angry at the way she had been treated, Ann waived her right to anonymity and campaigned vigorously to have the law changed, setting up the charity Action Scotland Against Stalking.

Her efforts were successful and in December 2010, new laws were passed in Scotland, swiftly followed by the rest of the UK and most recently, in 47 European member states.

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson, Police Scotland's newly appointed national lead for stalking, said: "Before the anti-stalking legislation was introduced, the police faced an uphill task.

"Now we have some of the most advanced legislation in Europe.

"Police Scotland is absolutely committed to tackling stalking - it is unacceptable and we will not tolerate it."

Ann has helped COPFS to develop a national training programme for all prosecutors involved in stalking cases.

Les Brown, COPFS national lead for stalking, said: "Stalking is a chilling crime which can cause a victim to lose his or her home, friends, business, identity and even life.

"The safety of victims is at the heart of our approach and frontline police officers have a vital role to play.

"Events that may seem non-criminal in isolation -the sending of a birthday card, a present left at the door - once viewed through the lens of the victim, become something much more serious."

Mr Brown added: "There has been a year on year increase in the number of stalking cases reported since the legislation was introduced in 2010 and in the last full year, more than two thirds of all stalking cases brought to court resulted in a conviction."

He added: "Now we must work together to build the confidence of victims and put their safety at the centre of our approach to this insidious offence."

Superintendent Helen Swann said the event held "huge significance" as it was the first to bring together the key players involved in anti-stalking laws.

"This is exactly what our front-line police officers need to hear," she said.

"I cannot imagine the kind of courage required to do what Ann has done - to stand up and speak out after such a terrifying experience.

"But it is invaluable for us, as police officers and prosecutors, as we hear the victim's voice. It is then up to us to make sure we respond properly."

Superintendent Swann added: "There is still a lot of work to do, particularly in joining up the different strands of work being done already, but today's event is extremely significant."

Ann, whose voice broke with emotion several times during her powerful presentation, said she was "honoured" to be asked to speak.

"It is very heartening to see Police Scotland, COPFS, the NHS and victim organisations working together," she said.

Stalking is a horrific crime, it steals victims' lives.

"I had a tear in my eye when I heard Les speak of the wonderful systems which are now in place to help victims of stalking -what a difference it would have made to my life."

Ann added: "This event is a first - there is some incredible work being done in Scotland and we are leading the way in Europe too.

"Stalking is a growing crime, and we are no longer denying its reality - this is the new frontline in our battle against crime."

ann.fotheringham@eveningtimes.co.uk

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