The hit Netflix drama, Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer, has catapulted the offences of stalking and harassment to the forefront of public consciousness. Although the complete veracity of Gadd’s work is being debated, stalking and harassment is a reality for thousands of people. In July 2023, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that in England and Wales there were 709,388 stalking and harassment offences in the year ending March 2023.1 Women are more likely to be harassed and stalked than men.2 Research from the US shows that, generally, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience stalking than their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts.3 Yet, these statistics most probably do not show the full picture. As Baby Reindeer depicted, victims of stalking and harassment face several barriers in reporting these offences to the police, such as not being aware of their rights, facing challenges in proving stalking and harassment, and feeling that they may not be believed. Stalking and harassment must be taken seriously. Research suggests that stalking is a factor in 94% of domestic homicides.4 Yet, only a fraction of reports of stalking and harassment to the police end in convictions – for example, in the year ending March 2022, only 1.4% of reports of stalking to police ended in the stalker being convicted.5

This article briefly explains the law concerning the criminal offences of stalking and harassment, considers the definition of these offences, and highlights some relevant recent cases.

Law and Sentencing

Harassment and stalking are classified as offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and, if racially or religiously aggravated, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Stalking itself was not classified as a specific criminal offence in English and Wales Law until 2012.6 Two sections of the Protection from Harassment Act deals with stalking, namely Section 2A, which labels stalking as a criminal offence, and Section 4A which deals with stalking that has caused fear of violence or serious distress.

For harassment and/or stalking, the maximum sentence is six months in custody and is a “summary only” offence (i.e. it can only be tried in the magistrates’ court). For harassment and/or stalking that puts people in fear of violence or stalking that involves fear of violence or causes serious alarm or distress, the maximum sentence is 10 years in custody. If such an offence is racially or religiously aggravated, the maximum sentence extends to 14 years in custody.7

Under the Stalking Protection Act 2019, police are empowered to seek stalking protection orders from a magistrates’ court in cases where the criminal threshold has not been met or is still being established, or when the victim does not support a prosecution.8

Stalking protection orders impose restrictions and requirements on defendants as determined necessary by the court to ensure public safety. These orders are intended for situations where other interventions might not apply, such as stalking outside of a domestic abuse context, stalking by non-intimate partners (known as ‘stranger stalking’).

Definitions of Stalking and Harassment

Stalking and harassment can be broadly described as unwanted behaviour and attention that is repeated and causes someone distress or alarm.

What is harassment?

Harassment is any conduct aimed at causing someone alarm or distress. It must happen more than once, but the actions involved can vary. Typical examples of harassment include repeatedly sending texts, voicemails, letters, or emails, making comments or threats and loitering near someone’s home or repeatedly driving by it.

At what point does stalking become stalking?

Stalking involves persistently following someone (including watching, spying, or forcing contact with someone) through any means, including social media. Often, stalking presents itself in subtle forms, disguised by actions that appear harmless. And, sometimes, stalking, although a form of abuse, is mistaken under the guise of “love.”9

Having sex with someone does not preclude them from being a stalker. Stalking often involves parties who have been in an intimate relationship. Crown Prosecution Service research in 2020 found that 84% of stalking cases sampled at random from across England and Wales involved complaints against ex-partners10 and the “most dangerous” stalkers are those who have had a sexual relationship with their victim.11

When considering if a line has been crossed, the obsessive and fixated behaviour of the alleged stalker, as well as the impact on the alleged victim needs to be considered. Essentially, stalking is an abusive way of expressing and demonstrating power and control over someone else. The extent to which the stalker causes the victim fear and impacts their day-to-day life, health and relationships of the victim are key indicators of stalking behaviour.

Recent Cases

R v Javid Sheikh, January 2024

Mr. Sheikh, aged 43, was sentenced by the Honourable Mr. Justice Saini at Bristol Crown Court on January 30, 2024, after being convicted of aggravated stalking that caused serious harm or distress to His Honour Judge Simon Oliver. The offence spanned over five years, from 2016 to 2021. Sheikh’s harassment took the form of a malicious blog named “Judges Behaving Badly,” where he posted offensive and false comments about Judge Oliver and facilitated similar contributions from others.

Sheikh’s harassment was rooted in his dissatisfaction with a legal decision by Judge Oliver in 2014, which upheld Sheikh’s inclusion in the Adults’ and Children’s Barred Lists due to prior conduct. After exhausting normal appeal routes, Sheikh began a vendetta against Judge Oliver through his blog. Sheikh’s blog contained highly offensive and defamatory content, including baseless allegations of bribery, racism, sexual misconduct, and other crimes against Judge Oliver. The blog also published personal details such as Judge Oliver’s home address and photos of his family, inciting threats of violence and causing substantial distress and fear. The blog severely impacted Judge Oliver’s personal and professional life, causing him and his family to alter their lifestyle for safety. They withdrew from social media, installed security measures, and lived in constant fear of attacks incited by the blog. Justice Saini determined that Sheikh’s culpability was high, given the planned, persistent, and hateful nature of the blog, and the targeting of Judge Oliver’s sexual orientation. The harm was classified as very serious, significantly disrupting Judge Oliver’s life and work. Considering the prolonged and severe nature of the harassment, statutory aggravating factors, and the overlap with previous civil contempt proceedings, Sheikh was sentenced to 8 years in prison. A restraining order was also imposed indefinitely to prevent further harassment of Judge Oliver and his family.

R v Peter Charles Johnson, April 2024

On 22 April 2024, Peter Charles Johnson was sentenced to 51 months in prison for sending threatening and abusive communications to four individuals between 2020 and 2023 by the Honourable Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb DBE at Birmingham Crown Court. Convicted of ten offences, including making threats to kill and harassment, Johnson targeted public servants, including a Crown Court judge, using methods consistent with his past criminal behaviour. Despite his claims of being unable to control his actions due to autism and depression, the court rejected this mitigation, citing gaps in his offending history. Johnson’s communications included offensive accusations and threats, causing significant distress and requiring enhanced security measures. His history of similar offenses and his attempts to frame another person was an aggravating feature of his sentence.12

The murder of Gracie Spinks

Gracie Spinks was stabbed to death on June 18, 2021, in Duckmanton, Derbyshire, by Michael Sellers, a former colleague who had been stalking her. Before her death, Spinks had reported Sellers’ obsessive behaviour to the police. Additionally, two dog walkers found a bag of weapons belonging to Sellers, but police mishandled the evidence, treating it as lost property rather than investigating it.

The inquest jury concluded that Gracie Spinks was unlawfully killed and identified numerous police failings, although they did not directly attribute these to her death. These failings included not seeking Sellers’ disciplinary file from his workplace, giving him a warning that may have escalated his behaviour, and failing to investigate the bag of weapons properly. Despite this, disciplinary actions against the officers involved were limited, with some receiving written warnings and others facing no action due to retirement.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found multiple investigative lapses, including the failure to arrest Sellers or request his disciplinary records. Following the inquest, Derbyshire Police apologised to Gracie’s family and acknowledged their shortcomings, while the coroner planned to issue a prevention of future death report to encourage national improvements in handling stalking cases.

Gracie’s parents have campaigned for better police training and procedures to address stalking in collaboration with Cheshire Police’s Harm Reduction Unit (HRU). The HRU treats stalking as a public health issue, involves collaboration between police, NHS psychologists, healthcare workers, probation officers, and victim advocates. Gracie’s parents advocate for “Gracie’s Law,” mandating independent stalking advocates (ISAs) in all police forces to support victims throughout the reporting and legal process. Despite progress, a coroner highlighted the “postcode lottery” of support, with only 14 out of 40 police forces having stalking advocates.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following resources are available to support you:
• The National Stalking Helpline – 0808 802 0300 (open 09:30 – 20:00, Monday and Wednesday, and 09:30 – 16:00, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday)
• The Suzy Lamplugh Trust –
• Galop – the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity – Galop Helpline 0800 999 5428

Article written by 7BR’s Yasmin Omotosho.

Yasmin’s article was recently circulated by Inner Temple Library.

  1. Northumbria Police Press Release for National Stalking and Harassment Week 2024 []
  2. 4.4% of women reported experiencing stalking compared with 2.4% of men. More women (13%) than men (7.2%) also experienced at least one form of harassment – ONS Crime in England and Wales, victim characteristics: year ending March 2023 []
  3. Stalking & LGBTQ+ Individuals: Fact Sheet []
  4. Exploring the Relationship between Stalking and Homicide, 2017 []
  5. Press Release: Research into stalking victims’ experiences of the CPS, HMCTS, and the Judiciary, Suzy Lamplugh Trust []
  6. Stalking was classified as an offence when amendments were made under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. As of 25th November 2012, amendments have been made to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which makes stalking a specific offence. These amendments were made under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. and (where the offending is racially or religiously aggravated) the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. []
  7. Sentencing Council Guidelines for Harassment and Stalking []
  8. See the Stalking Protection Act 2019. The procedure for serving these orders on defendants is detailed in the Magistrates’ Court Rules 1981, SI 1981/552, r 115 []
  9. Stalking vs. love: Knowing the difference, Medical News Today []
  10. Stalking analysis reveals domestic abuse link, Crown Prosecution Service []
  11. Most dangerous stalkers ‘are ex-lovers’, BBC News []
  12. R v Peter Charles Johnson Sentencing Remarks, 22 April 2024 []


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