Police would be able to warn women if a new partner had a violent past under plans to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from domestic abuse being considered by the home secretary, Theresa May.
The growth of online dating, coupled with the recent launch of a national police database, has encouraged the government to look at new ways to protect potential victims.
A proposal for a “Clare’s law’ – after 36-year-old Clare Wood, who met her murderer through an internet website – is to be launched in London on Monday by Wood’s father, Michael, and the former Labour cabinet minister Hazel Blears, who said May had written an “encouraging” letter on the issue. Wood’s killer, George Appleton, set her body on fire before hanging himself in February 2009.
An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission later criticised individual and systemic failures in the way Greater Manchester police had handled Wood’s previous allegations that Appleton had harassed, assaulted and threatened to kill her. It emerged that he had a history of violence against women.
The campaign has won backing from Louise Casey, the government’s victims commissioner, and the Home Office confirmed on Sunday that it was looking closely at the idea, which would also protect men seeking new partners.
Blears, MP for Salford and Eccles, in whose constituency Wood lived, said: “Women in Clare’s situation often are unaware of their partner’s previous relationships and this can mean they start a relationship with someone with no idea if they have a violent past. Clare’s tragic death shows how vulnerable women aren’t always protected under the current law and until women are given the right to know if their partner has a history of serial domestic abuse they can’t be sure of the risk that they face.
“By changing the law we can empower women so that they can take informed action about their relationship and give them the chance to protect themselves and prevent domestic abuse from happening before it begins.”
Blears said two women a week died at the hands of violent partners or boyfriends, and the arrival of a national police database meant providing better information had become a more practical proposition. The trigger for release of information had yet to be determined but might either come in response to people raising concerns to the police over the behaviour of a partner or, more controversially, through the police proactively alerting people if a new partner had a history of violence flagged on the computer, even if a formal approach for information had not been made.
In both instances, the decision to release details would have to be approved at a meeting with other agencies such as the NHS or children’s services, said Blears. There should be no “free for all” allowing people to go on “fishing expeditions” or try to settle scores.
“If a woman chose to carry on a relationship, so be it. At least they are fully informed.”
Wood’s father Michael told the Mail on Sunday: “My daughter wasn’t stupid. If she had known about that man’s past, she would have taken herself out of there in a heartbeat.”
The Home Office said in a statement: “Clare’s death was a tragic incident and it’s important that lessons are learned. We are committed to doing all we can to protect victims of domestic violence including funding a network of independent domestic violence advisers and a national helpline for victims.
“At the end of June we also launched domestic violence protection orders in three pilot areas to empower police officers and magistrates to stop offenders from contacting victims or returning to their home for up to 28 days. The first eighteen orders have been imposed by the courts, so they are already bringing protection to victims.
“But we will always consider what more can be done … We’re looking at how the roll-out of the police national database can further help forces identify and monitor repeat perpetrators, providing further protection to victims.”
The idea of “Clare’s Law’ follows the introduction of Sarah’s Law giving information on child sex offenders following the murder of Sarah Payne by paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000. The evaluation of a pilot scheme on this published last year showed fathers raising concerns over their partners’ new boyfriends were among the largest groups requesting information.