Alice Ruggles death: Why harassment and stalking online must be taken more seriously; A report into the graduate's murder highlights how technology helped abusive ex control and terrify his victim.
Social media giants and police need to start taking online stalking as seriously as physical harrassement.
That's the view of the family ofmurdered Alice Rugglesand one of Newcastle's leading domestic violence experts, after a report highlighted how killer Trimaan Dhillon used technology as a tool to torment his terrified victim.
The former soldier subjected Aliceto a campaign of stalking and harassment during which he hacked into her social media accounts as well as bombarding her with abuse calls, messages and emails after she ended their short relationship.
Spurned Dhillon then drove 120 miles from his army barracks in Edinburgh's to Alice'sGatesheadhome, where he cut her throat.
Alice Ruggles' parents describe how blossoming romance with Trimann Dhillon ended in brutal murder
This week a Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) into the 2016 murder highlighted the role social media and telecommunications played in Dhillon's stalking.
The report's author makes a series of recommendations, including that the Home Office works with telecommunication providers and national stalking abuse experts to 'review measures and advice to reduce harm from digitally-assisted stalking'.
Alice's mum Sue Hills said her daughter contacted Facebook after discovering thatDhillon had hacked into her account, but got no help.
Now, she has told that it was time social media giants took more responsibility.
Sue 58, said: "Social media companies have got all the information they need to be able to do something to help. When Alice contacted Facebook they were less than helpful.
"These companies give people the tools to be able to stalk others so they need to take responsibility."
Northumbria University graduate Alice, 24, was brutally murdered by obsessed Dhillon, then 26, on October 12 2016, at her flat on Rawling Road in Bensham.
Dhillon had denied murder atNewcastle Crown Court, saying she had fallen on a carving knife during an argument.
But after hearing how the signaller with 2 Scots became obsessed with Alice and stalked her when he realised she was moving on from their intense relationship, the jury found him guilty of murder. He was jailed for life.
Heartbroken sister of Alice Ruggles opens up about her murder and issues passionate plea to others
Alice had contacted Northumbria Police about Dhillon's stalking in the days before he killed her.
An officer contacted his barracks in Edinburgh and spoke to a superior, but not Military Police or Police Scotland, and Dhillon was then told to stop contacting her or face arrest.
But he ignored the warning from within the regiment, continued to bombard her with calls and messages, and eventually drove 120 miles to Tyneside to murder the bubbly Sky employee.
The DHR report gives details of howDhillon used social media to torment Alicein the run up to her death.
And one of its key findings is that what is known as 'digital stalking' is now often prevalent in abusive relationships, and needs to be taken seriously when assessing how much risk a victim is at.
The report said: " From their initial contact, which was facilitated through social media, to the daily exchanges of text messages, emails and WhatsApp to contact one another, technology played a significant role in their interactions with one another and was an essential ingredient throughout the entire lifespan of Alice and the perpetrator's relationship.
"There is evidence of the perpetrator using social media and messaging to control Alice.
"He would use it to find out where Alice was, control what she was wearing and whom she was with, and he knew the content of her messages.
The tragic murder of Alice Ruggles
"His use of electronic devices to control and stalk Alice increased when she ended the relationship and he admitted to having password and login details for Alice's accounts. The impact on Alice was significant.
"She felt further isolated because she felt that she could no longer message her family or friends without the perpetrator's knowledge; and most importantly, the perpetrator knew that Alice was starting to form a new relationship, and this caused his behaviour, and the risk to her, to potentially escalate.
"From an individual perspective, it was clear Alice was experiencing digital stalking; however, despite efforts to try and restrict the perpetrator's behaviour, this continued."
And the reports says that despite the frightening messages and social media police might have assumed that Alice was safe from Dhillon due to the physical distance between them.
It continues: "It is clear that Northumbria Police and VictimsFirst Northumbria had some awareness of social media accounts, emails and messages being accessed by the perpetrator and despite the admissions, it would appear the cyber-related stalking wasn't considered as part of any risk assessment or risk management plan.
"Distance was seen a potential protective factor by agencies, but this does not apply in relation to digital-stalking. The panel concluded that digital stalking was not fully understood by the agencies involved with Alice."
Elaine Langshaw, chief executive of domestic violence charity Newcastle Women's Aid, said social media is now regularly used by abusive partners to control and watch monitor their victims.
Today's other news stories
And she fears police and other agencies are still not viewing 'digital stalking' as seriously as they should.
She said: "We come across this a lot. Social media has a lot of benefits but it also has a lot of downsides for women in these situations.
"Technology has made it possible for people to stalk and harass women on a much much bigger scale, and from wherever they are in the world. And it's no less dangerous."
And Elaine believes that the speed at which technology advances and changes means that those working with abused women need to learn to adapt just as quickly.
"We have all got lessons to learn," she continued.
"Digital stalking and harassment is a key indicator that really needs to be taken as seriously as someone presenting themselves in person. Digital technology moves really, really quickly so the tools we use to assess the risk to people need to move just as quickly."
And Elaine has echoed Sues' calls on social media giants to look at the roles they could play in the fight against stalking.
She added: "These big companies are producing the tools that enable people to be in constant contact with each other, but they need to look at the downsides too."
Following the murder, Alice's family set up the Alice Ruggles Trust, which aims to raise awareness of coercive control and stalking.
And Alice's parents have since worked closely with Northumbria Police, other forces and criminal justice agencies to help promote the message and educate officers and staff about the issue.
The DHR has also recommended that it becomes an offence to threaten to release intimate photos of an ex-partner, as Dhillon had done once Alice had called off their relationship.
In a second call to Northumbria Police, as Dhillon's stalking continued, a call handler asked Alice if she wanted him to be arrested.
The DHR found the police should have made the decision, and it should not have been left to the victim, who declined.
Alice Ruggles' brutal murder shocked the nation - so what's changed in the two years since?
Northumbria Police's assistant chief constable Rachel Bacon said changes have already been made nationally regarding the response to stalking and harassment.
She said: "After Alice's death it was recognised nationally that changes needed to be made in how police respond to reports of stalking and harassment.
"I am pleased to say we have already implemented changes to improve the way we record and respond to such offences.
"With the help of Alice's family we are now leading the way in training officers in the best way to deal with these types of offences, with their input vital in developing a video which is now also used by other forces and partners.
"Their continued determination to change the law to better protect victims of stalking is commendable."
Stuart Douglass, Independent Chair of the Alice Ruggles Domestic Homicide Review Panel, said the case highlights just how dangerous stalking can be and that urgent action is required.
He said: "The experience of Alice gives us all a powerful account of the impact of stalking and coercive control, and this would not have been possible without the support and insight of Alice's family, friends and work colleagues.
"Their input has given this review a window into the debilitating impact, escalating risk, and significant danger posed by perpetrators to stalking victims. The report's findings and recommendations require national and local ownership, awareness and action.
The changing face of domestic violence - why more professional women in Newcastle are trapped in abusive relationships
"I am confident that Gateshead Community Safety Board and its partners will work with the Alice Ruggles Trust and progress the findings and recommendations with the priority and rigor they require."
And Coun Angela Douglas, chairman of Gateshead Community Safety Board, said: "I am confident that, together with our partner agencies and alongside Alice's family, we can use the findings from this review to further improve our collective response to victims of domestic abuse and stalking.
"Following Alice's death, there is emerging evidence of positive change at a local level, where we have seen a marked increase in the volume of recorded stalking offences, and nationally, significant action at Parliamentary level.
"I am pleased that the Alice Ruggles Trust, set up by Alice's family to raise awareness of stalking, is already making a huge difference and I am encouraged by their response.
"We know anyone can be stalked and we collectively need to be better equipped and confident to recognise the signs to help put a stop to this distressing crime.
"Together we must take the threat and harm posed by stalking seriously at a leadership, frontline and community level to help bring stalking to an end."
Killed by his lover at home, Dean Bowe's family vow to take legal action over police 'failings'
Infamous planning row killer Albert Dryden dies after prison release
Credit: PA / Family handout
Murder victim Alice Ruggles
Credit: Newcastle Chronicle
Chief executive of Newcastle Women's Aid, Elaine Langshaw
Credit: Newcastle Chronicle
Sue Hills with Clive Ruggles and Nick Ruggles
Credit: Newcastle Chronicle