NORTH Yorkshire Police are ready to use new anti-stalking powers they hope could prevent tragedies similar to one suffered by a former York shop assistant and Selby High School student.

It could also lead to cyber pests losing their computers and mobile phones.

A law making “stalking” a criminal offence for the first time came into effect yesterday. Under it, stalkers can be jailed for up to five years and police can enter their homes and seize anything they use for their crimes.

Det Insp Shaun Page, of York’s Protecting Vulnerable People Unit, believes it will make it easier to protect victims from obsessive and unwanted behaviour that turns their lives into a misery.

Official figures show that one in 20 people will experience stalking during their lives and 77 per cent of women murdered by their current or ex-partner and 85 per cent of those who survived murder bids by their partners or ex-partners reported being stalked in the 12 months leading up to them being attacked.

Det Insp Page said: “The investigation of stalking is therefore key to homicide prevention.”

Computer games fanatic David Heiss became so obsessed with former Selby College student and York shop assistant Joanna Witton after meeting her through cyberspace he murdered her boyfriend, Matthew Pyke, in the couple’s Nottingham flat in 2009.

One common complaint from stalking victims is that police don’t believe them or deal with incidents on a one-by-one basis.

But now police will be encouraged to look for a pattern of behaviour rather than just deal with the incident that led to them being called out.

“We will thoroughly investigate allegations of stalking and we will take it seriously,” said Det Insp Page.

Cyber stalking hit the news recently in York when children were harassed through social media. The new power of entry and search will mean police can seize computers and other items used for stalking.

The specialist domestic violence court at York Magistrates Court regularly deals with cases brought under the existing laws involving former partners. But until today, the maximum sentence they could hand out for non-violent harassment was six months. The stalking powers do not apply to behaviour that occurred before yesterday.