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Clare's Law protects women at risk of domestic violence

Police in Manchester have made disclosures about 52 people with records of violence offences but detectives would like more families to take up the opportunity.

Clare Wood, who was murdered by her former partner in 2009.
Clare Wood, who was murdered by her former partner in 2009.
Image: Greater Manchester Police

FOLLOWING A THREE-year campaign by a bereaved family, a law was introduced in England and Wales to allow police disclose information about individuals with prior convictions of domestic violence.

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better-known as Clare’s Law, was introduced in September 2012 and since then, police in Manchester have made 52 disclosures to women following requests from either the woman herself, her family or agencies working in the field.

The law was named after Clare Wood, a 36-year-old who was brutally murdered by her violent ex-partner George Appleton in 2009. Clare’s killer strangled her and set her body on fire before hanging himself.

On discovering Appleton’s violent past – he had previous convictions of repeated harassment, threats and the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his other ex-girlfriends – Clare’s father Michael Brown launched a campaign for people to be able to find out if their partner has a violent past. He believed if Clare knew about Appleton’s past, “she would have dropped him like a hot brick and scampered out of there”.

Speaking from Manchester today, Detective Superintendent Phil Owen from the Public Protection Division of Greater Manchester Police encouraged more people to make use of the preventative measure.

“Sadly we know only too well the devastating consequences that domestic abuse has and we welcome any initiative that helps to protect victims of domestic abuse and prevent further crime. “However, for an area as large and diverse as Greater Manchester we would have liked to have seen a greater take up either from those in a relationship or from friends, relatives or neighbours concerned about the possible risk posed to somebody they care about.”

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is a preventative measure and enables potential victims to take control of their life and make an informed decision about whether to stay with somebody or not. It may be that somebody is in a relationship but isn’t happy about some of the behaviour of their partner. If warning bells are ringing, then these are the types of people we want to hear from.

Police and Crime Commissioner for the area, Tony Lloyd, said it is tragically too late for Clare but if the law “stops even just one woman facing the same fate then that is a lasting legacy which hopefully brings some comfort to her family”.

Clare’s Law can be used by anyone who has concerns about a partner’s abusive behaviour or concerns for somebody they know who may be in a relationship and at risk of violence by the partner.

How does it work?

  • An officer takes details of what has prompted an enquiry and the nature of the relationship;
  • The officer will ask when and where it is safe to make contact again;
  • The applicant will need to give their name, address and date of birth and some initial checks will be done to establish if there are any immediate concerns;
  • Following initial contact with the police, a face-to-face meeting may be set up to complete the application if deemed appropriate. This meeting will establish further details about the application in order to assess risk and confirm identity;
  • Working alongside the Prison Service, Probation Service and Social Services, checks will be completed as quickly as possible;
  • A multi-agency meeting will then be set up to decide whether any disclosure is lawful, necessary and proportionate and if so, will decide who to disclose the information to and set up a safety plan tailored to the needs of the potential victim.

Case studies

Local politician Hazel Blears said that two women are killed in the UK every week by a current or former partner. She said she has been told that the women in the area that have used Clare’s Law so far are “glad they did so”.

Police released five case studies to highlight how the scheme has worked. Since the launch in September 2012, 65 ‘right to know’ or ‘right to ask’ applications have been made about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know. A further 25 applications have been submitted by agencies, where they have felt that somebody might be at risk.

Of the 90 ‘right to ask’ and ‘right to know’ applications received by Greater Manchester Police, 52 disclosures were made.

Thirty-one were non-disclosed, either because the partner did not have a record of violent offences or there was no information that posed a risk to the partner.

Case Study One

This application for disclosure came from a Statutory Agency within Greater Manchester who whilst working with a 38-year-old woman, became aware that she had entered into a relationship with a 58-year-old man.

This man was actually known to Greater Manchester Probation Service, who had previously worked with him for violent domestic abuse related offences. In fact, he had previously attended an Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme after assaulting a previous partner.

The Probation Service expressed concerns over the vulnerability of his new partner, who had herself been a victim of domestic abuse in the past, and they felt that she needed to be made aware of his domestic history in order that she was better informed to protect herself.

The decision,making forum met and agreed to disclose to this woman that her current partner had been a perpetrator of domestic abuse related assaults and criminal damage in the past. With the support of a number of agencies disclosure was made to the woman and various options were discussed with her. She expressed a wish to leave the relationship and she was supported to do this.

Case Study Two

This was an application that was made by a 24-year-old woman under a ‘right to ask’. She had recently entered into a relationship with a 33-year-old man from outside the Manchester area whereby she became pregnant.

During their relationship he became more controlling, not letting her see her friends and family. He was also evasive about his past relationships. Due to his behaviour and her concern for her unborn child, she made an application to determine if he had been involved in domestic incidents with previous partners.

The decision-making forum met and it was discussed that this man had made threats towards an ex-partner and had assaulted her. Police intelligence also indicated he was responsible for harassing a former partner. He had not been convicted of domestic abuse related offences, but the pattern and nature of his controlling behaviour, coupled with the intelligence gave sufficient concern to the members of the decision-making forum that disclosure should be made to the person at risk. She was provided with support from partner agencies in considering her future and that of her child.

Case Study Three

This application was made by the police under the right to know. The police were called to a reported incident of domestic abuse following a call from a concerned neighbour who had heard sounds of a disturbance and shouting from a neighbouring property. The police attended and there were no offences immediately apparent to the officers at that time.

Specialist domestic abuse officers then researched the incident; backgrounds checks and intelligence identified that the 30-year-old man had an extensive history of assaulting former partners, including a violent attack involving a weapon. He had been sentenced and served a term of imprisonment for this offence. Furthermore the person at risk lived at the property with two children under the age of 10.  It was decided by police that the woman should be made aware of the man’s previous violent history.

The decision-making forum met and it was discussed that the man had a large number of incidents of violence with an ex-partner. That woman, being substantially younger than the perpetrator, was assaulted with weapons and on one occasion was strangled.

A number of local agencies were able to offer support during the disclosure to the woman and due to her having two small children they were able to provide continuing support to safeguard her and her children from this man.

Case Study Four

This is a case where the application under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme had been made by a mother of a 21-year-old woman. The application was made because of the family’s concerns over her daughter’s partner. They had seen some unexplained injuries on their daughter and they were alarmed by his controlling and possessive behaviour. The application was made without the knowledge of their daughter.

The decision-making forum met and it was outlined that the boyfriend had an extensive criminal history, predominantly acquisitive crime. However there was some intelligence of domestic abuse incidents with other members of his own family. It was agreed therefore that disclosure should be made to the daughter about the man’s domestic history. No disclosure was given about other criminal convictions.

However, before the disclosure had been made to the woman she had ended her relationship and returned to live with her family. Agencies were able to support her in her decision to leave and to provide more long term support into identifying domestic violence. There were no children.

Case Study Five

This application under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme came from a health care professional who was concerned about a patient in her mid 20’s and her two young children.
This woman’s new partner had ongoing health concerns and he was actually being managed by a mental health trust and Greater Manchester Probation Service.

He had a history of assaulting a former partner.During the decision making forum it was established that this man should, as part of his licence conditions, be disclosing all new relationships to his offender manager, in order that they may carry out a risk assessment. This he had failed to do. Because of this failure he was in breach of the terms of his licence and he was recalled to prison.

The woman in the application was then supported whilst the disclosure was given and provided with continuing support to help her end the relationship with this man, so keeping her and her children safe.

Read: Cuts to domestic violence services are “hacking away at life-lines”

More: 22 pregnant women looked for safety from violence – on one day

Related: ‘Clare’s Law’ gives info on violent partners

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