The voice of victims

Stalking- behind bars, more custodial sentences will be imposed by new stalking laws this week

Stalking- behind bars, more custodial sentences will be imposed by new stalking laws this week

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Blackpool nurse Jane Clough didn’t live to see the new laws which might, just might, have saved her – at another time or place.

But if you listen hard enough you can hear her voice in the whispered promise of justice which comes with new laws that give greater protection to victims of stalking.

The A&E nurse was stabbed repeatedly by her ex-boyfriend outside Blackpool Victoria Hospital as she was about to start her shift.

The bail system had freed Jonathan Vass, facing rape charges, to stalk and slay the mother of his child. Jane’s loving parents Penny and John Clough have already won a concession which means prosecutors can appeal to a High Court judge on any crown court decision to release suspected serious offenders on bail.

It’s closed a loophole which left far too many vulnerable to predators freed to play out the last sick act of inhumanity against those they claimed to once love – or others targeted by twisted obsessives.

But it’s not the end of the battle. The couple are now out to right other wrongs through the Gazette backed Justice for Jane campaign. Today they celebrate another milestone on the path towards a safer future for countless women and men.

John was in the Commons yesterday to see the Stalking Law become another tool in the arsenal against twisted obsessives.

Stalkers control their victims’ lives from near or far – staking out their homes, workplaces, family and friends, their phones, social networks and cyber space.

Sometimes it ends in murder or even suicide for the victims of unwanted attentions.

From today more stalkers will be brought to account for sins, crimes nipped in the bud, those who overstep the line jailed for five years. The laws sit alongside existing ones for harassment and curb the tendency of old to trivialise stalking.

Jane’s mother Penny admits: “We’re so proud to have been part of the working party chaired by Elfynn Llewyd MP.”

Her daughter chillingly predicted her own death in her diary days before Vass struck.

Refusing to live what was left of her life on his terms she bravely continued to work and lead as normal a family life as possible.

At 10pm on Wednesday December 12 Sky Channel 533 will feature Jane’s life and death in a new TV series Britain’s Darkest Taboos .

John and Penny helped shape the anti-stalking safeguards which became law this week.

Their work – a labour of love on behalf of their daughter and countless other women lost or facing a living hell – is not yet done. It will take a root and branch reformation of the legal system to balance the odds in favour of women wronged to do that.

But the new legislation introduces new specific criminal offences of stalking for the first time.

The campaign amounts to a collective cry of outrage on behalf of women – and victims are mostly but not exclusively women – who have gone before, some suffering in silence, others crying for help but failed by the inadequacy of the legal system.

A Layton man, who stalked a local shopkeeper almost daily for 18 months, told her to see him as her “bodyguard.” She moved home to avoid him. Magistrates imposed an indefinite restraining order, and nine weeks imprisonment suspended for 18 months supervision.

Former Blackpool North and Fleetwood MP Joan Humble was one of the earliest to call for tougher laws three years ago after the savage murder of a Fleetwood mother of two by an ex-boyfriend who stabbed her 13 times after stalking her “mercilessly”.

While some have not lived to see the change others such as Liz, saved by Fylde Coast Women’s Aid from an abusive ex-partner who stalked her relentlessly, hope the new law will keep her safe when he walks free from prison, for drug offences, next year.

His calculated cruelty continues from behind bars, letters sent via his solicitor. Women’s aid service manager Tina Hibbard says the woman concerned wishes to remain in her own home rather than flee the Fylde.

“These women are stalked into a state of almost perpetual fear,” adds Tina. “They can’t sleep, they can’t work, they struggle to function on a daily basis because they are in a constant state of alert.

“Another local victim was driven to such desperate lengths to avoid prying eyes she wallpapered the house windows. Stalking happens more than many think. Quite often women are moved for their own safety.

“We have a good system in place, school records don’t go directly to a new school for instance, But women lose their job, home, children’s school, peer support. Far better to deal with the perpetrator.”

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne concludes: “Stalking is an appalling crime that destroys lives. The impact on victims can be devastating and we are doing all we can to make sure they have the protection they need and do not have to live in fear. These new offences send a clear message to offenders that stalking is a serious crime and they will be brought to justice for making others’ lives a misery.”

* jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk or twitter @jacquimorley