Stalkers using smart technology to track victims, PSNI say

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Police have warned how smart technology has been used by stalkers to monitor their victims.

Some have had tracking devices added to their cars and phones, a detective superintendent in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said.

Lindsay Fisher also warned that smart controls for home heating, baby monitors and CCTV cameras can be used by perpetrators.

She was speaking at an event in Belfast on stalking laws in Northern Ireland.

“The place that you’re meant to feel the most safe, somebody can be using that technology against you,” she said.

Det Supt Fisher said social media and smart technology provide new ways for stalkers to target their victims.

“We have people that have had trackers added to their phones, to their vehicles,” she said.

“So there’s a rise in social media making people accessible, but actually also in smart technology.

“We think about all of the things that we can do from the touch of a button… whether that’s putting our heating on from another location or setting the cooker to go on, but actually those can be used by perpetrators.

“Those can be used to change the usage of a baby monitor, change the usage of your CCTV outside your home.”

PSNI detective superintendent Lindsay Fisher
Image caption,

PSNI detective superintendent Lindsay Fisher

Det Supt Fisher said over 95% of stalking victims are women.

She said examples of stalking behaviour they have seen can range from perpetrators following their victims, to sending them unwanted gifts, and “constant, repeated” and abusive messages.

Stalking Protections Orders (SPOs) came into effect in the region in October to give police further police powers to tackle stalking behaviours.

It followed the Protection from Stalking Act NI 2022 which brought Northern Ireland into line with other parts of the UK.

Since the legislation was introduced in April last year, police have arrested around 230 alleged stalkers and charged more than 100 people.

There have been 27 prosecutions relating to stalking between May 2022 and October this year.

Convictions for the most serious offences carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

The event also heard around 70% of the files police have received on stalking relate to partners, ex-partners or family members.

Det Supt Fisher said there is a “stereotypical image” of a stalker being “someone hiding in a bush and following a stranger”.

But she added: “Almost all of our cases have a domestic or known-person element to them.”

Clive Ruggles
Image caption,

Clive Ruggles’ daughter was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who was stalking her

Clive Ruggles, whose 24-year-old daughter Alice Ruggles was murdered in Gateshead in 2016 by an ex-boyfriend who was stalking her, was among those who spoke at the event.

He said “without a doubt” the legislation introduced in Northern Ireland will help protect victims, but any breaches of protection orders must be properly followed up by the authorities.

“We’ve got the tools now – we’ve got to use them properly,” he said.

To anyone who is a victim of stalking, he added: “Really do tell someone about this – don’t suffer in silence.”

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