This paper presents the first academic case study of a UK cyberstalking incident that involved an individual known to have harassed at least four victims. The case study describes how the harasser selected victims, his use of technology to gather confidential information about them and his use of multiple personalities as part of the process of harassment. The discussion section of the paper raises a broad range of issues, including whether the case represents a genuine cyberstalking incident, how technology was used to assist the harasser's activities and how the harasser attempted to avoid detection.
This legal guidance addresses behaviour which is repeated and unwanted by the victim and which causes the victim alarm or distress. Cases involving stalking and harassment can be difficult to prosecute, and because of their nature are likely to require sensitive handling, especially with regard to victim care. The provision of accurate and up-to-date information to the victim throughout the life of the case, together with quality support and careful consideration of any special measures requirements are essential factors for the CPS to consider.
In many circumstances, cases of stalking and harassment will come within the definition of 'domestic violence' and as such the CPS Domestic Violence Policy and legal guidance will also be relevant. Further information can be found at:
The effect of such behaviour is to curtail a victim's freedom, leaving them feeling that they constantly have to be careful. In many cases, the conduct might appear innocent ( if it were to be taken in isolation), but when carried out repeatedly so as to amount to a course of conduct, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim.
It is necessary to prove that the conduct is unacceptable to a degree which would sustain criminal liability, and also must be oppressive (R v Curtis  EWCA 123). The prosecution in this case relied on a series of spontaneous outbursts of bad temper and bad behaviour, with aggression on both sides, between partners during the time they cohabited. These were interspersed with considerable periods of affectionate life. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal against conviction on the basis that the trial judge had not directed the jury that the course of conduct had to amount to harassment and that the facts of the case, largely undisputed by the defendant, did not establish a nexus between the incidents.
The following case studies are examples of when it might be appropriate to prosecute a defendant for harassment or stalking . Any charging decision will depend on the particular facts unique to the case and each should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
In this case a section 2 charge is appropriate as there is a course of conduct, the course of conduct shows a number of incidents which can be described as harassment, causing the victim alarm or distress. This is also a disability crime as there is hostility based on the victim's disability. It is an aggravating factor under Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, allowing a heavier tariff to be used in sentencing than the crime might draw without the hate elements.
Since the correct application of a restraining order can be a significant part in managing the risks to a victim and in preventing further harassment, the investigating officer should provide information about possible conditions for an order as soon as possible. Prosecutors should also ensure, as part of reviewing the case, that a victim's view on a restraining order is sought from the outset.
However, a course of conduct must involve conduct on at least two occasions, and in relation to the harassment of two or more persons, it means conduct on at least one occasion in relation to each person. It is clearly a matter for the courts, on a case by case basis to determine whether two or more incidents amount to a course of conduct which consequently leads to persons being alarmed or distressed.
Section 112 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 gives the police additional powers. Police officers will have a power of entry in relation to the new offence of stalking under section 2A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The power of entry is exercisable by warrant and will allow the police to enter and search premises if there are reasonable grounds for believing that an offence under new section 2A has been or is being committed. A constable may also seize and retain anything for which the search has been authorised. The new powers to the police will aid in investigation and evidential gathering for example in harassment cases that involve cyber stalking. It is sometimes difficult to link the stalking behaviour of the offender to the victim without seizing the equipment used to stalk the victims. A power to search for and seize computers or other electronic equipment that may have been used to commit the offence would potentially strengthen the prosecution case.
When giving advice on cases of stalking and harassment, prosecutors should ensure that they have regard to the CPS Policy and legal guidance on prosecuting cases involving domestic violence, the Code for Crown Prosecutors, and the ACPO Guidance entitled: 'ACPO Practice Advice on investigating cases and Stalking and Harassment 2009', is available at: www.acpo.police.uk/documents/crime/2009/200908CRISAH01.pdf.
There is not a general requirement for the police to refer all cases of stalking and harassment for a charging decision. However, many of these cases will fall within the definition of domestic violence and therefore in certain circumstances require CPS authority to charge. The police are also encouraged to seek early consultation in cases which may be complex or involve challenging issues. Given the often complex nature of cases involving stalking and harassment it is likely that many stalking cases will be referred through to the CPS for pre-charge advice.
In cases of stalking where the harassing behaviour is prolonged and targeted and the victim is considered to be at high risk, it is essential that management of the case is carefully considered. Some more complex and difficult cases may require the personal allocation of the file to a senior prosecutor who is aware of the problems that may be encountered when dealing with cases of stalking and harassment.
Therefore, when advising on cases of stalking and harassment, even where there has been a decision for no further action, prosecutors should remember to advise police officers to instruct victims to keep such a record.
In the majority of stalking and harassment cases, there will be some connection between the victim and the suspect, even if the victim is unaware of who the suspect is (for example, where they have only briefly met before in passing). Whenever a case of stalking and harassment falls within the definition of domestic violence the appropriate guidance should be followed. This should occur even when the victim or others would not necessarily classify the situation as one of domestic violence, for example, when the victim and suspect have only had a very brief intimate relationship; to the extent that the victim may not even believe that the behaviour falls within the definition of a relationship.
Harassment can take place on the internet and through the misuse of email. This is sometimes known as 'cyberstalking'. This can include the use of social networking sites, chat rooms and other forums facilitated by technology. The internet can be used for a range of purposes relating to harassment, for example:
Organisations such as companies, Government departments or religious institutions may also be subjected to harassment, in furtherance of a political or other aim. In some cases, this activity will include the harassment of individuals who work for, or who are otherwise associated with, the organisation.
When considering such cases, it is important to balance the right to legitimate protest, with the rights of any individual to be free from harassment. Section 1(1A) of the PHA would potentially cover a campaign against a particular organisation, which involved actions relating to different members on different occasions.
Disputes between neighbours often include issues of harassment, which may be the result of a relationship deteriorating over a lengthy period of time. Such disputes may include complicated counter-allegations and repeat reports to the police. These may include civil as well as criminal issues. It is important when considering such cases to determine whether there is evidence of a clearly aggrieved party and perpetrator.
Cases of stalking and harassment that fall within the Government definition of domestic violence should be identified both on the file jacket (for example, through a readily identifiable sticker, marking it with the letters 'DV' or using a different colour file jacket) and flagged on CMS as domestic violence. Likewise, some cases will need more than one flag to ensure that the correct case handling procedures are followed and the volume and outcomes of such cases can be accurately monitored. There may be instances, for example, where the case also includes racism, homophobia or rape. These cases, together with cases of honour based violence, forced marriage and child abuse should be identified and cross-flagged to reflect this.
Identifying quickly and accurately the risks posed by a defendant toward a victim, group of victims or indeed a victim's family is a crucial step in increasing the safety of a victim. Cases involving stalking and harassment can sometimes mean that the victim is particularly vulnerable due to the determined and persistent nature of the suspect's behaviour. Prosecutors should ensure that when they are presented with a case either for charge or at court, a full risk assessment has been recently conducted by the police. It is crucial that the police or other agencies involve