I had tried to catch up with criminal behavioural analyst Laura Richards (pictured) in the UK last year to no avail; her schedule was extremely demanding. However, I managed to meet up with her out here in LA.
We arranged to get together at the home of one of Richards’s friends that she is staying with in Los Angeles. I approached the white building, a young chap came to the door and I asked for her. He welcomed me into the sprawling property … a veritable hive of activity. The décor was eclectic-modern and with that LA ‘je ne sais quoi’ vibe.
Laura Richards appeared and rapidly explained that although she had allotted the time for our meeting, there were two urgent calls that she was expecting from the UK and Northern Ireland about law changes. She explained that those were the only calls she would take if they came in during the interview and would otherwise not answer the phone. I agreed that would be OK by me. By the time we had sat down and prepared for the interview, coffee in hand, we both looked at the phone and laughed. Although she had turned her phone to silent it was vibrating off the hook. In line with her word she merely glanced at the phone and reiterated that she intended only to take the two calls she had mentioned.
My first question was about her background. She said: “I worked at New Scotland Yard – SO11 Sexual Offences Section profiling stranger abduction, rape and murder. Then with the ‘Understanding and Responding to Hate Crime Team’, profiling domestic and sexual violence in DAC John Grieve’s Racial and Violent Crime Task Force working with Prof Betsy Stanko. I then worked with the Homicide Prevention Unit which migrated in to the Met Intelligence Bureau. I was head of the Violent and Volume Crime Intelligence Unit, and then ACPO Violence Adviser working with [Wiltshire] Chief Constable and Violence lead for ACPO Brian Moore. In this role I developed the DASH (Domestic, Abuse, Stalking and Honour Based Violence) risk model. I am glad to say that most police forces use this as well as partner agencies. This was a huge step forward changing a reactive response to a proactive one.” I asked if she were ex-police or military. She replied no; she held civilian roles”.
We talked about her position as a woman in business and she said: “I co-founded ‘Protection Against Stalking’ (PAS) with Tricia Bernal, Clare Bernal’s mother and Carol Faruqui, Rana’s mother. Both young women were stalked and murdered. I wanted to help them. In their names I co-founded the National Stalking Helpline in 2010. The mothers said their daughters would not have called a DV (Domestic Violence) help-line but would have called a stalking help-line.”
Both families had suffered before that time by the lack of consideration of the serious nature of what is known as ‘stalking’. The heartless murder of Rana Faruqui by her former partner Stephen Griffiths, as she attempted to phone the police for help, led to Theresa May getting involved in the campaign over the law on stalking. Rana an IT analyst met Griffiths at work in 2003. They started a relationship and he moved into her home. After some time, incidents of domestic violence ensued and he became obsessive and controlling. As a consequence their relationship waned and she broke it off.
In the following months he stalked her, spied on her, took secret photos and turned up wherever she went. On July 21, 2003, the day her car brakes were cut, Rana telephoned the police and reported the incident. Three days later she went into Slough police station to find out what they were doing about it and once again told them that the brake pipes had been cut. That report was not acted upon for ten days; and on Saturday, August 2, 2003, Stephen Griffiths stabbed Rana to death. Teresa May told MPs when she raised the case in the Commons: “I have absolutely no doubt that Thames Valley police failed Rana. They should have taken the issue of the cutting of the brake pipes more seriously. Sadly, Rana’s family were left to face the tragedy of her brutal murder. Griffiths was jailed for life for her murder and a misconduct investigation followed Thames Valley’s admission that they should have acted on her telephone complaint.
In 2005 David Cameron announced that stalking was to be made a specific criminal offence. The move aimed to prevent murders like that of Rana Faruqui and Clare Bernal, 22, who was shot while working at Harvey Nichols in London. Her former-boyfriend Michael Pech walked up to her and shot her once in the back of the head and then three times in the face, he then turned the gun on himself. The plight of women like this and indeed men that are stalked that has inspired Richards to pursue a career in this specialist area.
I knew that Laura Richards had worked extensively with the police and asked her to elaborate. She said: “I co-ordinated the UK’s first National Stalking Awareness week in 2011 on behalf of PAS and in partnership with ACPO and the Home Office. I spearheaded the All Party Stalking Law reform campaign in 2012 which led to two new offences and the launch of Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service in 2013. We have assisted thousands of victims since and headed the DV law reform campaign – it took 12 months using the victims’ voice and evidence at the heart of the campaign. That was with Women’s Aid; and Sara Charlton Foundation, a grant-making charity seeking to help victims of domestic abuse and honour-based violence in the UK. The Foundation was set up in early 2011 in memory of Sara Charlton.
Richards went on to explain the extensive background and campaigning that has gone on to change the law for a new coercive or controlling behaviour offence. The legislation will target perpetrators of coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse of victims. The offence will carry a maximum of five years’ in prison, a fine, or both.
She said: “Creating the DASH and changing the laws has meant I am contacted by many victims and their families for assistance. I could not assist them all due to the sheer volume. I knew the service was desperately needed – hence setting up Paladin – the first of its kind in the world.” She again elaborated on this vast subject matter explaining the training requirements, the public protection element and above all keeping victims safe.
She explained how she involves the wider law enforcement family and how Paladin play a key role in training across the UK and co-ordinating the response to keep victims and their children safe. Richards went on: “I have always had a dislike of injustice and want to give a voice to those who do not have one – I have done that across my career. I don’t want to be at the reactive end of business once someone dies – I would rather be assisting to keep victims safe. That is the reason I created the DASH – it’s about homicide prevention. I have trained thousands of professionals in the UK and all across the world.”
Talking of global reach, I asked her plans in LA. She replied: “I am scoping setting up a sister service here. California was first to change the law on stalking in the wake of the Rebecca Schaefer case. The LAPD have a great unit for celebrities – but there is very little for the other almost seven million victims of stalking in the US.” Richards explained that Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer (1967-1989) began her career as a teen model before moving on to acting. In 1986, she played the role of Patricia “Patti” Russell in the CBS sitcom My Sister Sam. After the series was cancelled in 1988, Schaeffer went on to appear in several films.
On July 18, 1989, Schaeffer was fatally shot dead in the doorway of her West Hollywood apartment building by Robert John Bardo, who was obsessed with Schaeffer and had been stalking her for three years. He was sentenced to life in prison for her murder. Schaeffer’s death helped prompt the 1990 passage of America’s first anti-stalking laws, in California. Richards added: “The world is small and with the advent of new technologies stalking is only set to increase.” Again, we spoke at length about the film and TV shows that depict ‘stalking’ and the many facets of behaviour associated with this multi-layered crime.
But I wanted to get back to her plans in LA. She said: “I am also filming a new show called To Catch a Killer and looking at other projects. I have been appointed Vice President of Operations for XG productions. A dynamic company owned and operated by former G-Men, police officers and special operators. They consist of writers, producers, consultants, trainers, and show developers for some of the biggest shows/films in Hollywood. We chatted further about the other projects that she is working on but does not want to publicise at this stage. One thing is for sure the phone did not stop vibrating as we were talking … she is as busy here as in the UK.
I enquired further about her campaigning work back in the UK and what else she feels that should be done. She said: “I would like serial stalkers and DV offenders to be managed by ViSOR (Violent Sex Offenders Register) and MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement) including two new orders that are to be introduced. In my opinion the Home Office proposals do not go far enough.”
If she could change anything what would that be, I asked. She thought for a moment and replied: “I would change the sentence for stalking. The maximum sentence for criminal damage and offence against property is ten years. The maximum sentence for burglary is ten years. Both crimes are acute and ‘one-offs’.
Stalking is enduring causing long-term serious psychological harm and the maximum sentence is only five years. This makes no sense as it is one of the few crimes where early intervention can prevent violence and death and yet the sentence is much less. I would also introduce mandatory training on the new DV law to be effective. It is very similar to the stalking law. If I could change anything it would be getting training to the top of the agenda in these areas.
I would also like people to take seriously the National Stalking Awareness Week coming up in April 2016 and the concerns about a rise in so-called ‘stranger stalking’ where people target victims they have never met or barely know. Cases include people becoming fixated on a doctor, a workmate or someone contacted briefly online. One in five women and one in ten men are victims of stalking, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. There is still a lot of work to be done.”