HUNDREDS of stalking cases a year are reported to Cumbria Constabulary – but new powers to stop stalkers are rarely used.

Fewer than five Stalking Protection Orders were granted to the force in a year despite more than 500 crimes being recorded in 2020-21 alone.

As part of the Stalking Act 2019, SPOs were introduced in January 2020 to allow police to intervene and stop stalking behaviours at the earliest possible stage.

In the first year of their use – between January 2020 and February 2021 – officers in Cumbria applied for five orders.

Government figures show fewer than five SPOs were issued during that period, but a spokesperson for the force said by August last year, seven had been granted.

One application can result in more than one order being issued.

The force obtained an SPO for Penrith man Daniel Keeley in November after telling magistrates at Carlisle's Rickergate court he had carried out acts associated with stalking.

Read more: Penrith man given five-year Stalking Protection Order

The acts included "unannounced visits, unwanted calls and texts and filing police reports against the victim".

The orders commonly see stalkers banned from contacting their victims, prevented from visiting certain locations and being required to provide police with access to their electronic devices and social media accounts.

Keeley was told he must not contact his victim for five years, whether by social media, text or phone.

While they are civil orders, those who breach SPO requirements can face criminal action.

Across England and Wales, 409 SPOs were applied for and 189 issued during that year.

Following a review into their use, the Government has issued a series of recommendations aiming to raise awareness of the orders and encourage increased use and understanding among police forces.

The National Stalking Consortium welcomed the introduction of SPOs, saying it represented a welcome and much needed change for victims.

However, in response to the review, members – which include anti-stalking charity The Suzi Lamplugh Trust – raised concerns around their use and delays to the process as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

They highlighted national examples of requests being declined due to not meeting the legal threshold for stalking, officers not responding to breaches quickly enough and forces advising victims to apply for alternative orders – such as non-molestation orders – instead.

A Cumbria Constabulary spokesman said SPOs were one of many tactics the force employed to tackle stalking and deal robustly with perpetrators.

He said officers could also use domestic violence protection orders and restraining orders to safeguard victims.

“We recognise the vital importance of keeping victims safe which is why we place bail conditions on perpetrators in almost all cases we have dealt with," said the spokesman.

“This not only keeps victims and their families safer, our approach prevents harm and sends out a strong message to perpetrators that stalking or harassment will not be tolerated.”

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said SPOs worked well in general and provided a much-needed option for addressing stalking behaviours for victims.

However, the review highlighted a sometimes slow application process, long waits for court dates and examples of courts using other measures and orders in response to stalking cases instead of SPOs.

Police officers told the review more training was required across the criminal justice system, with some saying managing the process could be time consuming.