STALKING offences are set to hit a record high this year in Hampshire, figures suggest.

Home Office data shows that the number of stalking offences recorded in the six months between April and September by Hampshire Constabulary, is already 64 per cent higher than the amount recorded during the whole previous year.

The increase has been branded as "shocking" and "worrying" by Southampton MPs, who claim that stalking has "increased since lockdown" as perpetrators seek new ways to stalk victims.

Hampshire Police say they recognise there has been a rise in the reporting of stalking, adding that the rise is "partly down to an amendment in the Home Office Crime Recording rules that came into effect in April 2020."

A spokesperson added: "We have undergone significant officer training around this change to ensure we are recording offences correctly.

“Officers have also been proactive in encouraging victims to report incidents, particularly victims of violent crime and victims of sexual offences and domestic violence, who historically have been less likely to report to police.

“Hampshire Constabulary takes all reports of stalking and harassment seriously, and all allegations are investigated thoroughly."

The force recorded 1,017 stalking offences between April and September – in the 12 months to March 2020 there were 622.

It means that in the first six months since the coronavirus pandemic hit, stalking was reported six times a day on average.

As lockdown restrictions eased, a higher number of victims came forward to report stalking, compared to the first lockdown months. Between July and September, 667 such crimes were reported in Hampshire – 317 more than the previous three months.

Across England and Wales, 44,990 stalking incidents were reported to police between April and September – 39 per cent more than in the whole of 2019-20.

MP for Southampton Test, Alan Whitehead, said: "Stalking has only been recognised as a specific offence in the last few years and whilst it could mean that reporting is getting better year on year the size of the increase is shocking and worries me.

"The majority of reports of stalking in recent years have been linked to domestic abuse and we've also seen an increase in this since lockdown, perpetrators are also finding new ways to stalk victims via online platforms for instance.

"Prosecution rates for stalking really need to be improved to prevent repeat behaviour and escalation in violence that so often follows stalking."

Royston Smith, MP for Southampton Itchen, added: "Stalking is a heinous crime which can, and frequently does, ruin the lives of victims.

"The Government has previously legislated to tighten the law around stalking and to double maximum sentences, to 10 years in prison, or 14 years if the offence was racially or religiously aggravated. It is absolutely right that such strong protections should exist in the law.”

It comes as people protesting across the country following the death of Sarah Everard.

Crowds are taking to the streets to protest against violence against women.

Hundreds of people gathered on Clapham Common on March 13 to remember 33-year-old Ms Everard, who went missing while walking home from a friend’s house in the area on March 3.