A new law that makes a specific criminal offence of stalking came into force in England and Wales yesterday.
The law passed through Parliament as part of the new Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012.
Section 111 of the Act creates two offences, one of stalking under s.111 (1) 2A punishable with up to six months in prison, and the other under s.111 (2) 4A of stalking involving fear of violence, serious alarm or distress, which carries a tougher five-year maximum jail sentence.
The move to create the new offences comes after a long campaign to convince the Government that the existing laws, which considered stalking as part of harassment, were insufficient to protect victims.
Earlier in 2012, a UK parliamentary enquiry concluded that 120,000 women were victims of stalking every year in the UK, with only around half that number reporting the matter to the police.
The Home Secretary Theresa May has previously described stalking as a 'sickening and cowardly' crime.
"One in six women has been a victim of stalking... We need to end their suffering," she said.
The purpose of the new offences was to add some clarity to the law, to allow police and prosecutors to more readily apprehend and prosecute stalkers. Stalking has been shown to lead to more serious criminal offences in a number of high-profile cases.
In February, murderer Clifford Mills was jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 21 years after stabbing his ex-girlfriend Lorna Smith to death in his Brixton flat. Mr Mills had stalked Ms Smith for some time on Facebook.
In announcing the new law, Mrs May paid tribute to the victims of stalkers and their families, citing the tragic death of Rana Faruqui in 2003 as a driving force behind the new legislation.
Ms Faruqui was followed and spied upon by ex-boyfriend Stephen Griffiths, who also cut the brake pipes on her car. Ms Faruqui made several complaints to police but they did not intervene and Mr Griffiths went on to kill Ms Faruqui. He is now serving life for murder. It is hoped the new laws will help police intervene earlier in such cases.
New law to tackle stalking introduced (BBC News)