MPs are poised to debate doubling sentencing for stalking in January next year, sparked by a case involving a GP who was ‘terrorised’ over seven years by a former patient.
MP Alex Chalk presented a private member’s bill to Parliament last month in a bid to toughen up the law on stalking and debate increasing the maximum sentencing from five to ten years.
This followed the case of Gloucester GP Dr Eleanor Aston – his constituent – who was the victim of a repeated campaign over seven years by her 75-year-old former patient Raymond Knight, formerly of Mandara Grove, Gloucester.
Mr Knight was found guilty of harrassment and breaching restraining orders in May 2015, leading to the GP having a mental breakdown that Judge Jamie Tabor QC said ‘deprived the country of a first class GP… put enormous pressure upon her marriage and also her children’.
Dr Aston was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the stalking campaign and said she supported such a change in the law.
Mr Knight’s campaign against Dr Aston, who used to work at the Hadwen Medical Centre in Gloucester, included:
- Following her on patient visits
- Sending threatening mail
- Slashing her husband’s car tyres
In May 2015, Gloucester Crown Court heard that in May 2013 Mr Knight was jailed for three years eight months for his harassment of the GP but was paroled at the half-way stage of his sentence.
However, soon after being released he sent threatening messages to her home and her surgery.
Prosecutor Kannan Siva told the court that one note read: ‘You f***ing bitch. We now know where you live, where your daughters go to school, your car registration number, where you and your husband work. We have been watching you.’
The letter sent to the doctor’s home also said: ‘Guess who’s back? I’m back.’
Police found Mr Knight’s thumbprint on that letter and he was arrested.
At the trial in May 2015 Mr Knight was sentenced to five years in prison as a result of stalking, along with repeated breaches of restraining orders.
The judge Jamie Tabor QC told Mr Knight: ‘Your actions towards the victim in this case over the last 6-7 years have caused her to suffer what I shall call a mental breakdown. You have made her very ill. You have deprived the country of a first class GP, you have put enormous pressure upon her marriage and also her children.
‘For a period of over six years now you have conducted a campaign not of love and affection but one in which you sought to terrorise her – successfully.’
Jusge Tabor said he wished the law allowed a much longer sentence and suggested the Aston family write to their MP to call for such a change.
He told Dr Astor’s husband, Kevin: ‘Write to your MP to see if he can get the legislation changed… It is absurd that we cannot protect this lady better. If you write I will support you.’
Dr Aston told Pulse: ‘There were points where I would hide behind the sofa because I just felt he was looking for me. I just felt hunted and I had to stop work for several months.’
She said she supported Mr Chalk’s campaign – both for victims and to enable stalkers to undergo a medical psychiatric programme to try to rehabilitate them.
Dr Aston added: ‘At the moment there’s nothing in place to treat these people. The only way you can keep victims safe is by detaining them (stalkers). And five years is not enough because the average they serve in prison is about 10-12 months, that’s it. ‘
The GP, who is now working as a locum, said: ‘Just the thought of what’s happened to me making a change in law is incredible really – it just turns something horrific into something positive.’
Mr Chalk told Pulse: ‘We have got a lot of cross-party backing and support for the bill.’
On presenting the bill, Mr Chalk said: ‘Despite stalking being such a violating, intrusive crime and despite it having the capacity to do such significant physical and mental harm, it is still treated as a minor offence.
‘That will not do. At the very least, the maximum needs to be increased to 10 years’ imprisonment.’
The second reading of ‘The Stalking (Sentencing) Bill’ 2016-17’ bill, which has been postponed twice, is now scheduled for 20 January 2017.
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