How Clare's Law could save lives of women in the North East

Women are now able to find out the truth about their partners' violent pasts. Sophie Doughty examines how Clare's Law could save lives in the North East

It is hoped Clare's Law will reduce instances of domestic violence
It is hoped Clare's Law will reduce instances of domestic violence

For thousands of women that become trapped in an abusive relationship, it is already too late when their partner reveals his true colours.

It seems obvious to those on the outside - why doesn’t she just leave?

But in many cases just getting up and going is not that simple. Women are financially dependent on their partners, have children with them, or are simply too afraid to leave.

However, a new initiative, introduced last week, could help women avoid getting trapped in a violent home in the first place.

Past victims and domestic violence experts say the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), or “Clare’s Law” could save lives.

The new Home Office scheme allows police to disclose information about an individual’s previous convictions for violence to their partner, following a request.

It is named after Clare Wood from Greater Manchester, who was brutally murdered five years ago by her former partner George Appleton, who had a record of violence against women.

And the scheme was rolled out on Saturday after being piloted for 14 months in four police force areas.

It means that if a woman, or one of her family members, is worried a new partner may be violent, they can ask for information about their past and previous convictions to be disclosed.

Previously this was seen as a breach of data protection laws, or human rights.

Mother-of-four Gemma Redhead suffered eight years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her violent partner, Philip Kirby, from Cowgate, Newcastle. In 2011, he was jailed for raping her at knifepoint.

The 32-year-old knew Kirby had a criminal record when she first moved in with him, but had no idea just how violent he had been in the past.

She only discovered his previous convictions when they were revealed in court, as he was sentenced for raping her.

Gemma told the Journal the DVDS could save other women from enduring the same ordeal she did, and will prevent her former partner from hiding his past should he attempt to start a new relationship after his release from prison.

Greater Manchester Police/PA Wire Clare Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton
Clare Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton
 

“I knew my ex-partner had a criminal record but I certainly didn’t know the extent of it all,” she explained. “I already had a daughter when I met him – had I known he had been so violent prior to meeting me I would never have got involved.”

And Gemma believes Clare’s Law will help stop other women getting into the same situation

“Having the option there to find these things out would certainly be beneficial,” she said. “It is sad that you have to think like that, but having been in that situation before, I know that if I was bringing a new man into my home with my children I would want to know.”

Requests made under Clare’s Law will be thoroughly checked by a panel made up of police, probation services and other agencies to ensure information is only passed on where it is lawful, proportionate and necessary.

However, if there is material of concern, those affected will be given help and support from a refuge or experienced domestic violence organisation. And trained police officers and advisers will be on hand to support potential victims through the difficult and sometimes dangerous transitional period.

Every month there are around 2,000 victims of domestic violence in the Northumbria Police area.

Det Supt Steve Wade, who heads up the force’s public protection unit, said the DVDS would give police a powerful new tool for preventing some of this abuse.

“The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is a promising step forward for police. It provides a preventative measure for someone who may unknowingly be in danger of a violent partner,” he said.

“The scheme has been piloted in other force areas and Northumbria Police is in the process of implementing it.

“We hope the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme can help prevent someone being the victim of potential violence and even save a life.”

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, who is a lifelong campaigner against domestic violence, added: “Domestic violence is often a serial crime, in that a person who has been violent to one partner may well be violent to the next.

“This measure will help a new partner who is concerned, or anyone who is worried about them, to ask police if they hold information about a partner’s past.

“Domestic violence can be a hidden crime and it’s a personal priority of mine to help to stop it.

“The decision to nationally roll out this scheme is an extremely positive one as it allows officers to pass information on to vulnerable women which could potentially save their lives.”

Claire Phillipson, director of North East domestic violence charity Wearside Woman in Need, agrees that on a practical level the DVDS will save lives.

She hopes it will put an end to the ludicrous situation is which agencies, charities and complete strangers know more about a woman’s partner and the risks he might pose than she does herself.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” she said. “Too many times as an organisation we have become aware that a man has an extremely abusive past, he could even be a convicted rapist or have convictions for offences against children, and we get told we can’t tell a woman about his past.

“We have even been told it would be a breach of his human rights, which is just ridiculous.

“If women find out early on about their partner’s history it will be much more difficult for him to pretend to be something he’s not, and it’ll be much easier for women to spot and believe the warning signs. This really could save lives.”

The law is named after mother-of-one Clare Wood, 36, who was found dead in the bedroom of her home in Salford, in February 2009 after ending her relationship with George Appleton.

She had been strangled, raped and set on fire.

A nationwide hunt was launched for Appleton, who became known as the Facebook Fugitive after it emerged he had attempted to use the social networking site to lure other female victims.

Three days later, his body was found hanging in a derelict pub in Manchester. He had killed himself.

When Clare started a relationship with Appleton, she was unaware that he had a history of violence towards women, including harassment, threats and the kidnapping at knifepoint of a former girlfriend.

He was also known to prowl online dating websites and Facebook in search of partners, often using different aliases.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Domestic abuse shatters lives and this government is working hard to provide police and local authorities with the tools they need to keep women and girls safe.

“Protection for victims is improving but sadly there are still too many cases where vulnerable people are let down.

“I am determined to see a society where violence against women and girls is not tolerated, where people speak out, and where no woman or girl has to suffer domestic abuse.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer