Many murders could be prevented if prompt and more effective action is taken against stalkers, according to research by students at the University of Gloucestershire.
The work by the university’s Homicide Research Group has found a very strong link between stalking and murder.
The background leading up to 350 killings was studied by the group. It found that 94 per cent of the murderers had exhibited ’stalking behaviour’ before going on to commit their fatal attacks.
Former police officer Dr Jane Monckton Smith, senior lecturer in criminology at the university, said: "Practically every case we looked at featured examples of the obsessive, fixated behaviour that typifies stalking.
"Sadly, it is too late for the women and children who formed part of our research so we need to do justice to their memory by acting earlier, when stalkers are demonstrating these behaviours, rather than waiting for the escalation, which can have such profound and tragic results.
"Understanding the motivation behind these behaviours, and the risk that they present, is profoundly important."
Rachel Griffin, chief executive of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which runs the National Stalking Helpline, said: "Stalking is an obsession which can increase in risk and severity and needs to be addressed under an early intervention model.
"Acting on what are currently considered to be minor, unrelated incidents, but which are driven by a malicious intent could help to save lives."
She said stalking is often motivated by ’a need to assert control or to have a presence in someone’s life against their wishes’.
This type of behaviour could present itself in acts as simple as rearranging a victim’s garden furniture, sending unwanted gifts, loitering on the pavement outside their house, or even calling social services to maliciously report ’poor’ parenting.
Despite not presenting an immediate physical risk, stalking behaviour of that kind was found frequently in the university research.
“It demonstrate a fixation, and should raise a flag with whoever is investigating,” said Ms Griffin.
She added: "We need real commitment from criminal justice professionals to ensure that the intention driving the behaviour is examined and assessed for threat, and that seemingly ’harmless actions’ are seen for what they are and given the attention they deserve."
Superintendent Simon Atkinson of the Public Protection Bureau at Gloucestershire Constabulary said: "Stalking is estimated to affect one in five women and one in twelve men during their lifetime in the UK.
"We know that stalking is still significantly underreported and there is a need to ensure all services can identify and respond effectively to stalking to protect people and improve public confidence.
"As part of this whole system approach we see the stalking clinic best practice model as a vital element to early identification and intervention and are working closely with the Hollie Gazzard Trust in Gloucestershire to make that happen."
A University spokeswoman said "Research into more than 350 criminal homicides revealed that stalking behaviours were found in 94% of cases. Those key behaviours are characterised by fixation and obsession linked to surveillance and control.
"The research also found:
*Surveillance activity, including covert watching, was recorded in 63% of the cases (estimated to be much higher in reality as the victim is unaware)
*Escalation of concerning behaviours was identified in 79% of the cases
*Control was recorded in 92% of the cases
*Isolation of the victim was recorded in 78% of cases
"Acknowledged high risk action markers were present across the sample. For example: strangulation assault 24%, threats to kill 55%, suicidal threats 23% (estimate the presence of these markers could be much higher due to underreporting).
"Diverse activities like court actions were not recognised as stalking.
"Coercive control and stalking were more often simultaneously present where there has been an intimate partner relationship. This type of relationship formed 71% of our sample.
"Threats to kill occurred in 55% of cases, and in some cases the threat was articulated to third parties as well as the victim.
"Eighty-five percent of homicides occurred in the victim’s home."