MORE than six cases of stalking or harassment were reported to police in Dorset every day last year – double the figure from 2015.

In 2017, 2,339 cases of stalking, harassment or malicious communications were reported, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics.

Although stalking is the most serious of the three offences, charity officials say the crime is sometimes classified as harassment by police forces – masking the true scale of the problem.

A spokesperson for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust said: "Recording stalking and harassment in the same data set does not give a clear indication of the prevalence of these individual, distinct crimes."

She added that the charity believes that stalking is still being underreported, as there is a large disparity between the recorded crime statistics and the ONS' more reliable Crime Survey of England and Wales.

Reports of stalking and harassment have almost doubled over the past two years, with 1,213 cases reported in 2015 and 2,017 in 2016. Police say the main reason for the rise was the introduction of the malicious communications offence in April 2015.

Detective Sergeant Sarah Gillion of Dorset Police, said: “In today’s digital society there are more opportunities to contact people and the vast majority of stalking and harassment now takes place online or via telephone.

“Mobile phones, social media and other online channels can be used as tools for stalking and harassment.

“Online threats, ‘cyber-stalking’ and persistent or upsetting calls, voicemails and messages, can be just as intimidating and harmful as traditional forms of stalking and harassment."

She called the offences "appalling", adding: "The impact they have on victims can be devastating and long-lasting.

“It is a priority for us to support victims of stalking and harassment and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice."

Victims can contact police via 101, or 999 in an emergency. The National Stalking Helpline can be contacted on 0808 802 0300.