Devon and Cornwall Police received fewer reports of harassment last year, new figures show, despite a record number being logged across England and Wales.

Experts said the rise might be driven by more people coming forward, but low charging rates show victims are “being failed by a system that doesn’t deliver”.

The total figure in England and Wales was the highest since comparable records began in 2002-03, with 271,000 cases of harassment reported by all police forces.

Home Office figures show Devon and Cornwall Police dealt with 4,983 harassment cases in the year to September 2023 – slightly down from 5,135 the year before.

This was equivalent to an average of 14 cases reported every day in Devon and Cornwall and a more than threefold increase compared to nine years ago.

Katie Kempen, chief executive at the charity Victim Support said: “This stark rise in reported harassment could be down to a number of factors.

“Perpetrators can now harass people online, something we know is becoming ever more common – meanwhile, better public awareness could be leading to more people coming forward.

“Sadly, the true number of offences will be much higher, given that most victims do not feel able, or want to report to the police.

“Those who do report are being failed by a system that doesn’t deliver.”

Of the harassment cases recorded across England and Wales, 9,594 resulted in a charge or summons, or just 3.5%. Devon and Cornwall Police was unable to supply figures due to an implementation of a new IT system.

Ms Kempen added low charging rates are driven in part by police forces often failing to properly recognise cases of stalking and harassment or mixing up the two distinct crimes.

Across England and Wales, there were 679,000 harassment and stalking cases in total reported in the year to September 2023, with just 3.4% resulting in a charge or summons.

These also include malicious comments, controlling behaviour and racial or religious harassment.

Devon and Cornwall Police received 1,554 reports of stalking and 67 racially or religiously aggravated harassment.

Saskia Garner, head of policy and campaigns at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, said: “We know that many who have the courage to reach out and report to the police are often not believed or have their charges changed or dropped not reflecting the gravity of the impact on themselves.

“This often then deters them from continuing to pursue the case particularly as our research shows that in many cases communication from the criminal justice system professionals about the case is at best patchy and at worst non-existent.”

Alleged victims said they did not support taking action in 41.1% of all stalking and harassment cases in England and Wales.

Ms Kempen said long and re-traumatising investigations can also lead to victims withdrawing.

In the face of such enormous challenges, it is vital that victims have access to properly funded independent support services, to help them to cope, recover and rebuild their lives,” she added.

A government spokesperson said: “Stalking and harassment is an appalling crime.

“We have doubled the maximum penalties for stalking from five to 10 years and introduced a new civil order to protect victims. We are also funding stalking charities such as the National Stalking Helpline, and quadrupling funding for victims and witness support services by March 2025.

“We have seen a year on year increase in stalking offences charged since 2017 and we are determined for perpetrators to face the full force of the law.”