NEW stalking protection orders will be introduced to better protect victims at the earliest possible stage.

It comes as figures show that in Dorset there have been 119 reported crimes of stalking within the past two years.

The home secretary recently announced that the new orders coming into force in England and Wales will help those who are targeted by strangers, giving them similar protection to domestic abuse victims.

Breaching an order’s conditions will be a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Police will be able to apply to the courts for an order before a stalking suspect has been convicted or even arrested.

The requirements of the order will vary according to the nature of the case. Typically, the suspect will be banned from going near the victim and contacting them online.

They might also be ordered to attend a rehabilitation programme, or undergo treatment if they have a mental health problem.

The announcement is part of a set of measures to prevent violence against women and girls.

In the year to June 2016, the police recorded 4,168 stalking offences across the UK, an increase of 32 per cent since the previous year.

From January to December 2015 42 crimes were reported to Dorset Police - 12 from January to June and 30 from July to December.

And last year, from January to November 77 crimes were reported - 43 from January to June and 34 from July to November.

A spokesman for Dorset Police said: “Dorset Police takes stalking offences extremely seriously and will act on all reports to deal with offenders and support victims.

“Stalking is repeated, unwanted contact from one person to another which causes the victim to feel distressed or fearful. Stalking has been a specific criminal offence in England and Wales since 2012 and differs from harassment. We have been training officers and staff to assist in the identification of stalking as a separate offence from harassment and this has contributed to the increase in the figures."