Stalking and harassment reports jumped by a third during lockdown, new figures show.

Wiltshire’s Deputy Chief Constable urged victims to report stalkers to police and warned of a rise in harassment via social media.

Paul Mills, who is stalking lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “What we’ve seen during the Covid pandemic is that there has been a move towards victims actually being stalked online because the physical space is being removed.”

He said the same could prove true for the second lockdown “if history is a predictor of the future”.

The latest figures from the Home Office showed Wiltshire Police received 875 reports of stalking or harassment between April and June this year, up 30 per cent compared to the same three months in 2019.

That rise was the second highest of any force in the south west. Gloucestershire Constabulary, which scored worst, saw a 44 per cent jump.

The rise is partly down to a change in how the crime is recorded by police forces. Despite that, officers say they have seen an increase in cases.

In particular, the number of reports of cyber-enabled stalking and harassment have increased. Those range from people being bombarded with social media messages by former partners to people installing spyware on their victims’ devices.

The deputy chief said: “The type of technology you would have had to pay a lot of money for in the past you can now go on to Google and buy relatively cheaply.”

Installing anti-virus software and regularly changing passwords were just two ways to reduce the risks from obsessed hackers.

“Without doubt these types of crimes, particularly stalking, destroy lives. What I tend to hear from victims is that they’re left wondering what the perpetrator is going to do next.”

The senior officer said harassment affected how victims interacted with friends. “They isolate themselves from their families. Often, people change their jobs. We know that stalking can escalate quite quickly.”

The Wiltshire courts have seen horrific examples of the toll harassment has.

In August, 26-year-old Sam Farley was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for plastering explicit images of his ex-partner on bus stops after a campaign of harassment that saw him bombard the her family with social media messages in a bid to get her to contact him.

In a victim statement she said: “I don’t know how to explain how I feel. I cannot find the words. I feel distressed, exposed, violated.”

Judge Jason Taylor QC called the campaign of harassment “the stuff of nightmares”.

In the same month, Swindon man Oscar Crowe was spared jail for a slew of charges, including harassment.

He had targeted new mums, contacting them over Facebook, and sending them vile messages including threats to rape them and molest their newborn babies.

And last month, Matthew Hutton, 47, was handed a suspended sentence by Swindon magistrates for peppering his former partner with up to 100 phone calls, texts and WhatsApp messages a day. He repeatedly breached bail conditions banning him from contacting her.

New stalking protection orders, introduced at the beginning of the year, are now being used as a tool in the police armoury to protect harassment victims.

In Wiltshire, officers have made 10 applications to the courts for such orders since January – with six granted by magistrates. They are similar to restraining orders.

For support, contact police on 101, 999, or the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.