Shocking toll of abuse revealed by Clare’s Law

The abusive pasts of more than 1,300 violent partners have been revealed under a scheme rolled out nationally less than a year ago, figures obtained by the Press Association have shown.

Clare’s Law, named after Clare Wood (pictured) – who was murdered in 2009 by her ex-boyfriend, allows the police to disclose information about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence or violent acts.

Using Freedom of Information laws, the Press Association discovered at least 1,335 disclosures have been made across England and Wales under the law following 3,760 applications for disclosure.

Underlining the scale of abuse across the country, other figures revealed that courts have granted 2,220 domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs), which can be used to protect victims by preventing perpetrator from contacting them.

Clare’s Law was rolled out nationally in March last year, following a 14-month pilot in Gwent, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire and Greater Manchester, while DVPOs were launched in the same month following a one-year pilot in West Mercia, Wiltshire and Greater Manchester.

The Press Association figures also show a wide regional variation in the likelihood of a disclosure being made under Clare’s Law and MP Hazel Blears, who campaigned with Miss Wood’s father to introduce the scheme, said she would write to the Home Secretary to ask what is being done to ensure best practice.

Miss Wood’s father Michael Brown said he was “quietly delighted” the law is being used, but fears the already high figures are only the “tip of the iceberg”.

Mr Brown, 71, who lives with his partner near Pontefract, in West Yorkshire, said: “This is just people that are coming to the fore. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There’s an awful lot of it not reported, people are frightened to come forward.”

“We didn’t have the lofty ambitions to do away with domestic violence, that would have been nonsensical,” Mr Brown added. “What we did was try to give ladies and gents who were in trouble another chink in their armour. I think we succeeded in that.”

The retired prison officer went on: “This is just the start. This is what it is in just the first year, all these people know about Clare’s Law, they’re going to tell another five, another dozen, and next year this is going to snowball.”

Miss Wood, 36, was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton at her home in Salford, Greater Manchester.

Unbeknown to Miss Wood, Appleton had a history of violence towards women and was known to prowl online dating websites and Facebook in search of partners, often using different aliases. Appleton, from Salford, was found six days later after her death, hanged in a derelict pub.

Outside the four forces involved with the Clare’s Law pilot, Lancashire had the highest number of disclosures at 146, while Norfolk had made five disclosures, the lowest level.

Outside the three forces involved with the DVPO pilot, Essex had the highest number of orders granted by the courts at 178, while at the other end of the spectrum, City of London had not seen any granted and Gloucestershire had just two.

There is also a wide regional variation in the likelihood of a disclosure being made. For example, in Greater Manchester, it happens in more than 60% of cases, while in Merseyside the figure is 11%.

Salford and Eccles MP Ms Blears said: “The fact there have been almost 4,000 applications shows just how serious a problem domestic violence is in this country and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

“More than a third of those who have made an application have received information which empowers them to make a potentially life-changing – or even life-saving – decision to end a relationship. So it is clear the scheme has been of great assistance to hundreds of people already.

“What these figures show, however, is that the likelihood of a disclosure being made varies enormously across the country, so while here in Greater Manchester it happens in more than 60% of cases, in Merseyside the figure is just 11%.

“This suggests Clare’s Law is being applied in different ways by police forces. I will be writing to the Home Secretary to ask what is being done to review its use and ensure best practice is shared across the country and the right decisions are made.

“We should be looking to protect those who could be at risk of abuse wherever it is safe and appropriate to do so.

“We should also be gathering evidence about how often disclosures lead to people ending their relationship, and ensuring they are then getting all the support they need at that point.”

Last year, a damning report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said thousands of domestic violence victims are being failed by police forces across England and Wales due to ”alarming and unacceptable weaknesses” in the way cases are investigated.

There were 269,700 domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales between 2012 and 2013, the report said, with 77 women killed by their partners or ex-partners in the same period.

On average, the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic violence every 30 seconds and around 8% of recorded crime is made up of abuse in the home.

Abuse charity Women’s Aid said, in this context, the Clare’s Law disclosures and granted DVPOs appear to be relatively low.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “It’s important that the police have all the right tools at their disposal to respond to perpetrators of domestic violence, but what’s even more important is that they use them appropriately.

“Any woman asking for a disclosure under Clare’s Law is clearly already concerned about her relationship, and should be referred to a specialist service so she can get support with her concerns, even if no disclosure can be made.

“Similarly, DVPOs will work for some women, but the police need to be trained to recognise when they are appropriate and what other support the women might need.

“The recent HMIC report into the police shows failings in the basic attitudes and responses officers have to domestic violence, which is why we’re urging every force to provide specialist training for all officers in domestic violence, to create a culture change that will create an effective police response to domestic violence.”

:: Police forces were asked to provide:

  • 1) How many applications have been made to the force under Clare’s Law since the scheme was launched to the latest available date?
  • 2) How many applications have resulted in information being shared by the force with the applicant (number of disclosures)?
  • 3) The number of Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) applied for by the force since they were made available.
  • 4) The number of domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) granted.

Clare’s Law is not in force in Northern Ireland and DVPOs are not used in Scotland or NI.

City of London, Gwent and West Mercia refused to respond to the Clare’s Law request under exemption clauses.

Dorset and West Mercia refused to provide the number of DVPOs granted under exemption clauses.

The Clare’s Law figures include both people provided with information under the “right to ask” rule because they made a request, as well as those approached by police under the ‘right to know’ basis.

All responses were returned in late December and early January.

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