Victim calls for justice minister to make stalking legislation a priority
JUSTICE minister Naomi Long has said she is "considering as a matter of priority" how best to bring forward legislation protecting people from stalking and abusive behaviour.
She was responding after a woman told how she had been a victim of a terrifying campaign of harassment after ending a relationship with her partner of two years.
James McQuillan was sentenced last week for assaulting Ciara Hindman in her apartment in the Titanic area of east Belfast in February 2019.
The 29-year-old, of Bangor Road in Newtownards, Co Down, was also convicted of threats to kill and breaching a non-molestation order.
He received a nine-month suspended jail term, which his legal team indicated he intends to appeal.
However, Ms Hindman (26) says the conviction represents only a fraction of the sustained campaign of harassment she was subjected to.
Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK and Ireland without specific stalking legislation.
The PSNI currently deal with stalking via harassment legislation or through breaches of non molestation orders, civil orders which may not be available to all victims.
In 2016, following several high-profile cases reported in the media, then justice minister Claire Sugden commissioned a review of the law.
The results of a public consultation were published last November, finding that a majority of respondents strongly supported the introduction of stalking legislation.
Ms Hindman said the current law is completely insufficient in protecting victims of obsessive ex-partners and is leaving many victims vulnerable to sustained mental and physical abuse.
"The stalking was in many ways worse than the assault," she said.
"It never leaves you, you're always thinking about it, always on edge, always wondering where he's going to show up, or what he's going to do next."
She said following the assault her ex-partner was arrested and kept overnight in a police station but the stalking started almost immediately after his release.
"I changed the locks of my apartment, but got a message from the landlord saying James had emailed him and said I'd changed the locks, so he'd obviously tried to gain entry.
"At first there were silly things like the doormat being moved, the light in the hall was on a sensor but it would always be on. I thought I was going crazy - I kept hearing someone in the stairwell every time I left the apartment.
"He knew what time I took my lunch and breaks at. I spotted him driving really slowing outside my work, he was actually causing a traffic jam he was going so slowly.
"I panicked and was in such a state I was sent home from work, but realised he was following me, doing loops and constantly driving past.
"On another day he was hiding under the scaffolding at a building site beside my work.
"A few days later I was sitting in the courtyard garden area of my apartment block with friends when he came walking out from inside the building, I freaked out, ran back to my apartment and rang 999.
"Ten minutes later Harbour Police got him at the scene. They found his shoes on a different floor."
Records obtained by police show McQuillan entered the apartment block on at least 100 occasions between February 10 2019 until he was arrested on March 29.
Key fob records also show that he moved about the apartment block during the night, at times saying overnight.
Ms Hindman says she does not believe her ordeal is over and stalking legislation - with protection orders and tougher prison sentences - is essential to protect those trying to escape obsessive relationships.
Justice minister Naomi Long said: "I am currently considering as a matter of priority how best to bring legislation forward in order to ensure that those affected by both violent and non-violent abusive behaviour and stalking are afforded the best possible protection."