Stalking to become criminal offence
Stalking to become criminal offence Reuters

Tougher laws against stalkers are being brought in after a 49-year-old woman was stalked and murdered.

The first stalking offence will be tried at a magistrate's court with a maximum of six months' imprisonment. A second and more serious offence will attract stricter sentencing from a crown court and will require the victim to prove that he/she was threatened with violence by the stalker, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Calls for treating stalking as a serious crime gained momentum after 49-year-old Clifford Mills stalked Laura Smith online for an extended period of time, before inviting her to visit his apartment, where she was murdered.

Tracey Morgan, another victim of stalking, met with Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss measures to curb the menace. She said: "We have to improve awareness and culture around stalking as well as the law. Stalking is where domestic violence was 30 years ago. It's seen as a joke, a celebrity problem."

Another notable victim was David Cameron's brother Alexander, a barrister. He was reportedly stalked by a Polish woman named Irene Szymanska. The ordeal became so tiring for the younger Cameron that he sought help from the police, according to the Daily Mail.

Not all victims of stalking are happy about the legislation, stating that it lacks teeth. Claire Waxman, another victim, said: "I just don't know what has happened since that meeting at 10 Downing Street with Cameron. This is pretty much what we have already got. They have just added in the word 'stalking' (to anti-harassment legislation). Claire recently received a £3,500 damages award after the state failed to protect her when charges against her stalker were dropped.

The change in the law comes after an independent parliamentary inquiry was set up to look at stalking and reported back with devastating evidence about its prevalence and effects. The law in the UK and Wales will be similar to the one introduced in Scotland in 2010. According to the Guardian, 400 people were prosecuted for stalking in Scotland in the first 11 months of 2011, compared to only 70 from 2000-2010.

Statistics for the UK show that 4,365 convictions for harassment took place in 2009, 565 of whom were jailed. In 2010, 786 people were found guilty of the offence, with 170 of them being jailed.

The law in the UK, known as the Claire's Law, is expected to have many backers.

The parliamentary inquiry heard that some 120,000 victims, mostly women, are stalked each year, but only 53,000 incidents are recorded as crimes by police and only one in 50 of these reports leads to an offender being jailed.

The government has also announced that men in Britain accused of raping or assaulting women abroad could be put on trial in the UK courts.