In 2014, ‘Clare’s Law’ was introduced across England and Wales, a government scheme intended to allow women to request information from police on whether a partner has a history of domestic violence. Its full name, The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) has been developed and released in response to one especially harrowing case of domestic violence where a woman lost her life to a violent man with a dark past.
Clare Wood was 36-years-old and met 40-year-old George Appleton on an internet dating site in April 2008. Just over a year later, Clare discovered Appleton had continued internet dating and was in relationships with several other women. Ending the relationship and looking to put her experience behind her, Clare Wood was harassed, threatened, and attacked by Appleton who would not accept she no longer wanted him in her life.
In the days after she ended the relationship, she made repeated calls and visits to the police reporting the abuse and threats she was suffering at the hands of her ex. After one incident where he broke into her flat by smashing down the door, Appleton was handed a non-harassment order from police but it did little to stop his relentless pursuit of Clare. Four months after she separated from Appleton, in February 2009, he broke into her home in Salford, near Manchester, England and attacked her. Clare Wood was raped and strangled before her body was set alight. Her body was not found for three days and the immediate prime suspect in her murder was George Appleton.
After a nationwide hunt was launched, including an appeal on Facebook where he was known to hunt for women, he was found dead in a derelict building in Salford. He is believed to have hanged himself days after murdering Clare Wood and on the same day her body was found by police.
After her death, Clare’s family discovered that George Appleton had a long history of violence and domestic abuse against his former partners. A history that had they or Clare Wood known about, it is most likely she would never have begun dating him and would still be alive today.
According to the Guardian, in 2016 over 100 women were killed by men in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with 69% of those women being murdered by a current or former partner. The breakdown of a relationship, jealousy, money, and custody disputes are all reasons we hear over and over for what led an individual to murder. In many cases of fatal domestic abuse, especially those where the relationship was new or relatively short-lived, after the fact it is discovered that the male in question had a long history of violence, often against previous partners, a history their victim was unaware of.
Clare’s Law was advocated with passion and dedication by Clare Wood’s father Michael Brown, who was horrified to discover the sinister past of his daughter’s killer. “Had I known about his criminal record, I would have marched Clare back to the family home myself,” he said. Originally rolled out across four counties in England as a trial in 2012, it became clear through over 100 disclosure requests in the 14-month trial period that this was a plan that could be of great help to those at risk of domestic violence.
In November 2013 the UK Government announced that Clare’s Law was to become a national scheme from Spring 2014, rolled out across police forces in England and Wales. A version of the scheme was also rolled out in Scotland in 2015 with police Scotland’s national lead for domestic abuse commenting, “DSDAS is one way in which we can get ahead of the curve, helping to prevent people from becoming victims before abuse occurs.”
The law allows for the ‘right to ask’ for members of the public to ask police about ‘a partners history of domestic violence or violent acts’. The law also allows for the ‘right to know’ where police are able to warn an individual they believe may be in danger from a partner police know to have a violent history.
“Clare’s Law provides people with the information they need to escape an abusive situation before it ends in tragedy.”
At the start of 2015, BBC News reported that 1,300 disclosures had been made under the newly implemented Clare’s Law out of just over 3,500 applications from either concerned women or their family members.
The recent case of Theodore Johnson in London who murdered his current partner, Angela Best, in December 2016 after convictions for the manslaughter of two of his previous partners, has once again thrown the issue of individuals with violent pasts getting into relationships with new partners who have no idea of their history into the spotlight. In particular, concerns have been raised that the law is being applied differently in different areas of the country.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported last month that people in some areas are “10 times less likely” to receive the information from police compared to people in other locations. The difference appears to be caused by how police forces are handling the applications coming in to them under Clare’s Law. With no required procedures and format for how the application is processed and who is involved in the application assessment, there are currently clear disparities across the UK. “Clearly, the use of Clare’s Law and other powers available need to be of a consistently high standard across the country,” the domestic abuse charity SafeLives said.
The introduction of Clare’s Law is a positive step forward in trying to proactively protect against domestic violence when there is a clear violent history which may pose risk. Although more work is needed to ensure the law is being applied effectively and consistently across the country, there is no doubt of the opportunity it presents to help those at risk and potentially save lives.