SPECIAL REPORT: Your chance to speak out about domestic violence

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  • Clare Wood was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in Salford in February 2009
  • Appleton, who was found hanged days later, had convictions for the harassment and assault of former partners
  • Clare’s dad Michael Brown was the driving force behind the campaign to get Clare’s law enshrined
  • He believes that if his daughter knew of her killer’s violent past she could have escaped and still be alive today
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Two years have passed since the introduction of Clare’s Law – a national policing policy that allows those who fear their partner has a history of violence to find out the truth.

Officially titled the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, its more common name comes from Clare Wood, a woman from Batley who was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in Salford in February 2009.

Clare's father Michael Brown.

Clare's father Michael Brown.

Appleton, who was found hanged days later, had convictions for the harassment and assault of former partners.

Clare’s dad Michael Brown was the driving force behind the campaign to get Clare’s law enshrined.

He believes that if his daughter knew of her killer’s violent past she could have escaped and still be alive today.

Mr Brown said: “Domestic violence is a national disgrace. One of the nice things about what we did was bringing it to the fore.

“Domestic violence in this country is a scourge. Everybody thinks it’s a working class domain. But it goes from the very top down to the very bottom. “It’s not just two black eyes – domestic violence can be very subtle as well as very brutal.

Michael Brown

Mother-of-one Clare was strangled to death and set on fire by Appleton.

In the months before her murder, she had contacted Greater Manchester Police alleging he had harassed, threatened to kill and sexually assaulted her.

Through Clare’s Law, information about a potentially violent partner may be revealed in two ways: after a request from a member of the public (“right to ask”) or by an agency that feels a possible victim needs protection (“right to know”).

Between March 11, 2014, to March 11 this year, West Yorkshire Police has made 98 disclosures.

Under “right to ask”, 168 people asked the force about someone’s past, 49 of which were revealed. Under “right to know”, 98 requests for information were made and a further 49 cases disclosed.

Thirty requests are under review.

Mr Brown, 73, said: “That could’ve been potentially 100 girls or men in trouble. If they have learned from that and were able to walk away without any harm, I’m over the moon.

“I’m quite surprised that it’s gone well beyond any expectation. We just wanted to give the girls and lads an extra layer of protection.

“I do believe that it’s a flower that’s coming into bloom. The more people who know about it, the more will ask.”

Domestic abuse is a huge problem nationally.

According to the charity Living Without Abuse, an average of two women are murdered each week as a result of it. One in four women and one in six men will be affected by the crime during their lifetime, the charity said.

It accounts for around 16 per cent of all violent crime – but is still the crime least likely to be reported to police. And it also has more repeat victims than any other crime, according to the charity.

“It’s been well documented that victims have to be hit about 42 times before they think about leaving,” said Mr Brown, who is an former police officer and prison service worker.

It is sometimes described as a “hidden crime” due to its secretive nature.

“Domestic violence in this country is a scourge. Everybody thinks it’s a working class domain. But it goes from the very top down to the very bottom.

“It’s not just two black eyes – domestic violence can be very subtle as well as very brutal.

“One of the things I find amazingly clear, is if victims get in touch with any of these agencies, after four phone calls if they don’t answer it, the victim will drop it.”

Domestic violence is estimated to cost the public £23 billion each year, which includes the expense of those involved such as the health and social services and the criminal justice system. It affects women and men of all backgrounds – but women do statistically suffer much more.

Control is a big part of the crime. Victims can be left without any money or means of contact – the telephone Clare could have used to call for help was “torn off the wall,” according to her father. Mr Brown said:“You are virtually a slave.”

The definition of domestic abuse in law has now extended to account for non-violent behaviour such as coercion and intimidation.

According to a House of Commons briefing paper published last month, West Yorkshire was the fifth worst region for reports of domestic abuse recorded by police in 2014/15. There were 40,774 incidents recorded – up by 2,106 on the previous year and an increase of 10,426 since 2007/8.

And despite all this , Clare’s Law faced criticism from some groups before its roll-out on March 8, 2014, which came after a pilot scheme.

Charities such as Refuge and Women’s Aid argued that police already had sufficient powers to disclose information about partners, and that the money that would be spent on the scheme could be better used.

Mr Brown said: “Everyone’s entitled to their say. All I ask is they stand in my shoes for five minutes and understand the pain that domestic violence can cause.

“There was people who said it was a knee-jerk reaction. They have slowly sunk into the shadows.

“We didn’t set out for notoriety or whatever, we set out with the explicit aim of helping girls in trouble.

“For every one of those there are a few people like me – mothers and fathers. Grandads, grandmas, brothers and sisters.”

Mr Brown was helped to campaign for Clare’s Law by Michelle Livesey, a reporter for Manchester radio station Key 103. Former Salford Labour MP Hazel Blears was also a big help, he said.

“We ended up in Parliament and in 10 Downing Street. Without Michelle I would’ve been a voice in the wilderness. It sounds silly but I was handed a baton that I felt I couldn’t put down. Just saying no to people who were desperate to advertise what was going on, it was hard, and still is hard, to say no when you realise you are saying no to people who are really in dire straits.”

He once received a letter from a young woman who described to him “the most harrowing experience of her life.” Two days later she was murdered by her partner before Mr Brown had the chance to respond.

Mr Brown, who first moved to Batley in 1979, said he misses his daughter very much.

“She was a smart kid with a grand sense of humour,” he said.

“Clare was scatty. She was up, she was down. There was always a new sun on the horizon, and it never appeared.”

He is urging anyone who believes they are the victim of domestic abuse to speak up about it now.

“If you are suffering domestic abuse, don’t put up with it. Report it, get out – or report it and get him out.”

Where to go for help:

Detective Superintendent Darren Minton of the Safeguarding Central Governance Unit, said: “Each request for disclosure is carefully considered on a case by case basis with a multi-agency meeting held with other safeguarding agencies including the probation service, prison service and social services to consider any relevant information and ensure that any disclosure is lawful, necessary and proportionate.

“We would encourage anyone with concerns about someone they are in a relationship with to find out further information about the process on the West Yorkshire Police website, by calling 101 or by attending their local police station.”

Where to go for help:

Calderdale

Calderdale Council :

http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/community/domestic-violence/index.html

Calderdale Women Centre

01422 323339

www.womencentre.org.uk

Doorways – for help with housing

01422 392460

Leeds

Leeds Domestic Violence Services

0113 246 0401

Email administration@leedswomensaid.org.uk

Womens Health Matters

www.womenshealthmatters.org.uk

0113 276 2851

Email: admin@womenshealthmatters.org.uk

Kirklees

Kirklees Domestic Violence Team,

01924 431491

domesticviolence@kirklees.gov.uk

http://www.kirklees.gov.uk/domesticviolence

Wakefield

Alcohol Team

01924 302120

Safer Relationship Men’s helpline

07515 573842 (please leave a message)