Clare's Law - Can it Work?

22/10/2012 10:44 BST | Updated 21/12/2012 10:12 GMT

The pilot scheme for Clare's Law, which allows people to check if their partner has a history of violence, has been running for a couple of months. Until now, information about whether a partner has convictions for domestic violence were kept confidential, even from subsequent partners at risk.

Retired prison officer and campaigner Michael Brown, 68, the father of victim Clare Wood, who was 36 when she was raped, strangled and had her body set on fire by her ex and who the law is named after, says his daughter would be alive today had she had access to details of her partner's violent past.

Clare was murdered in 2009 by George Appleton, a man she met on Facebook and who later committed suicide. Appleton had been convicted of kidnapping a former girlfriend at knifepoint and had a history of violence towards women. He had four harassment orders against him one of which related to Clare. It should have kept her safe, but Appleton ignored it.

In September, the scheme was rolled out across four police forces in England and Wales - Greater Manchester, Gwent, Wiltshire and Nottinghamshire - and will pilot until 2013. Channel 4's Dispatches has had exclusive access to Gwent force and their programme looking at Clare's Law in action, is broadcast tonight. (Monday 22nd October)

Mr Brown, a widower from Batley, west Yorkshire says: "If Clare had known about Appleton's history she would have realised how much danger she was in and would have come to stay with me where she would have been safer."

"I'm rattling around in an empty house and I told her there was plenty of space for her.

"What the police knew about Appleton couldn't be told to her so she didn't know how vulnerable she was. All I knew was that he was making a nuisance of himself, I had no idea he had been violent towards Clare. If I had, I would have insisted she live with me.

"The reason she didn't come and live with me when I offered to have her here is because she had split up with her former partner - the father of her daughter. Clare and her ex both lived in Salford - which is 40 minutes away from me - and her daughter lived with her dad. He was only five minutes away so she could visit easily, but if she'd known the seriousness of her situation, she wouldn't have taken the risk of staying in Salford.

"Domestic violence devastates families. Kiddies like my granddaughter, who is now 13, had to go through therapy and move house because of what happened to her mother. They didn't stay in Salford because my ex-son-in-law moved in with his new partner. They both had houses so they thought it was a good time to make a clean start and he moved away to live with her.

"Because of Appleton my grand-daughter will never have a mother to tell, 'mum I'm getting married,' or 'mum, you're going to be a grandma.' She has a step-mother but it's just not the same for her.

"Children suffer terribly when domestic violence is involved. Over 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence and in over 50% on known domestic violence cases the children are also abused.

"When I first started the campaign I discovered that one in four women suffers domestic violence, and I found out that less than 24 percent of women report it. Of that 24%, the average woman has to be assaulted around 35 times before she calls the police. Every year, two women a week and around one man every three weeks, are killed by partners or ex-partners. Then there are the 300 - 400 parents, children and family members who are also affected when they lose someone in such a violent way.

"Domestic violence is the highest repeat crime in the UK and police receive a call a minute relating to domestic incidents, but funding is being cut and 250 women a week are currently turned away from refuges. The UK's two largest domestic violence charities received a total of £12.3million a year while the Donkey Sanctuary received £22.5million in a year. The costs to the taxpayer are huge - £16 billion in police time, court time, compensation, social security, NHS, therapy... Something has to be done.

"Clare's law will help but it has been criticised by Refuge, the domestic violence charity, who say it won't make more than half-a-percent difference to the numbers of people being killed, but if Clare's law saves just one woman a year I would consider it a success.

"I know Clare's Law will make a difference because Gwent police say it's going to make a difference. They have been receiving an average of ten enquiries a month and that's led to around four disclosures - where police have told a woman she's living with a partner with a violent history. That doesn't sound like much but if you multiply that by 43 police forces across the country that would be 430 enquiries a month and potentially over 2,000 people who could choose to leave before something really bad happens. That's a huge difference.

"I was surprised when I discovered that one in four women surveyed in refuges decided to stay with a violent partner having been given the information about them. In the end it's up to the individual, but at least they have an informed choice.

"There are some cases you can't legislate for, for example there is the case of a woman who was having sex with her partner and called him John when his name was David. David went downstairs and got a knife and stabbed her to death in bed. We are never going to do away with domestic deaths altogether, but the tide needs to turn and awareness needs to be raised. The problem won't go away on its own.

"Nobody knows the pain that this causes and if anything I do can save one person and their parents from going through what I went through then it will have been worth it.

"The pain never goes away. Losing a parent seems natural but you never expect your children to go first. It's not just about not being able to send a Christmas or birthday card, it's the fact that you feel you failed in some way. It haunts me that Clare's last moments were spent kicking and screaming trying to fight off a man who didn't want to hear no.

"As a father, I felt a duty of care towards Clare but I was powerless to help. Under Clare's law I could have asked the police to investigate Appleton. They couldn't have told me the information but they could have told Clare and I'm sure she would have acted and she would have had a future because of that."


Detective Chief Inspector Roger Fortey overseas the pilot of Clare's Law and has high hopes for its success although to date, no one has left a partner having been told of their violent past.

The scheme, which is being carried out using existing funding, has been operating in Greater Manchester and Gwent since July, and Wiltshire and Nottinghamshire since September. So far, the four forces have received 58 applications for information about violent or potentially violent partners and 13 disclosures have been made.

DCI Fortey said: "In Gwent, we've had a mixed bag of reactions. One person said they knew already about their partner's past, and we had others who said they didn't know but chose to stay anyway. We will get some who say they didn't want to know but 94 percent of women surveyed in women's refuges said they would be glad to have the information.

"I'm not surprised more women haven't left because domestic abuse is a complex crime. It's not as straight-forward as a burglary or fraud, it's relationship based, there are children, finances and life-styles involved so it would be naive of me to think just because we've made a disclosure people will leave immediately.

"What does matter is that we try to do our best to keep people safe. We offer a care package when we make a disclosure which includes a refuge place if it's needed.

"If you consider that this is not our typical type of response to domestic violence, we're generally dealing with a crisis and we're in crisis management. It could be two in the morning, there's drink, drugs, screaming kids, neighbours on the street, that's what we're used to.

"The circumstances of Clare's law disclosure is a much more measured response. I would expect fewer cases where we go to a home and someone's packing a bag and walking out. That would be pretty extreme. It will be more likely that you're leaving information with someone, signposting what support we can offer them and letting them consider over a period of time.

"They might wait for a trigger which could be days, weeks or months, but however long it takes, there's no time limit on the care package we've offered them, they can contact us at any stage.

"In the end, we have to allow people to make their own decisions."

*Do you know your partner's past?: Dispatches, Channel 4, 8pm, Monday 22nd October