STALKING victims nationally are being failed and left at risk, University of Worcester academics are warning.

But West Mercia Police stress they are encouraging victims to continue coming forward as they will be treated with sensitivity and confidentiality.

Commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) as part of a wider review into harassment and stalking in England and Wales, researchers from the University’s Centre for Violence Prevention questioned a number of victims about their experiences.

The research found a quarter of victims felt so discouraged by their contact with police that they said they would not approach them again.

The report also revealed a lack of understanding by police officers of the impact of stalking behaviour and its seriousness, and of the current legislation and how to use it effectively.

Although 60 per cent of victims surveyed felt their first contact with police was positive, others felt their ordeal had been trivialised.

Only 10 per cent felt they had had a completely positive experience in their dealings with police and the criminal justice system.

And despite all participants describing stalking and harassment behaviour, researchers found only 40 per cent of offenders had been arrested, with 20 per cent convicted.

The university's senior lecturer Dr Holly Taylor-Dunn, who led the report, is now calling for a review of police training for such cases.

“Police need to understand the bigger picture,” she said.

“It’s about putting incidents in context and that’s something my research has shown police aren’t doing.

“Unless officers have the time and resources to be able to understand the impact that this is having on someone and the understand incidents in context, they’re never going to interpret the legislation effectively.

“The majority of negative experience related to the fact that they were told the offences they were reporting just weren’t serious enough, which just isn’t actually accurate."

Dr Taylor-Dunn said that there were cases in which victims were blamed or held responsible, particularly social media and online related incidents.

In the report, Dr Taylor-Dunn recommends a review of police training, the use of Police Information Notices, (PINs) given as a warning to offenders, and the auditing of police reports on cases to check officers are using the right legislation.

Dr Taylor-Dunn added: "Not having a definitive definition of stalking doesn’t help but it’s also about how police officers interpret and implement the legislation and we still haven’t solved that problem."

Detective Chief Inspector Paul Moxley said: "West Mercia Police are already working on the issues raised in this report, and remain committed to taking stalking and harassment seriously, and to delivering a better response for the victims of these distressing crimes.

“West Mercia Police unequivocally supports HMIC's report and particularly welcomes the recommendation for there to be a review of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and to provide a more robust definition of stalking.

"We also await the guidance that will shortly be released by the College of Policing to review the use of PINs.

“The force already has established a comprehensive action plan in order to better manage harassment and stalking investigations.

“I would like to encourage those who have been through harassment and stalking to contact the police for our help or to contact the National Stalking Advocacy Service, Paladin if they do not wish to report issues direct to police.

"We are already working closely with Paladin and any reports will be treated with sensitivity and confidentiality.

"Our aim is to protect people from harm and this means giving people the confidence to come forward when they have been a victim of crime, safe in the knowledge that a full investigation will be carried out and that they will be wholly supported throughout the entire process.”