Chris Marshall: Clare’s Law scheme could save lives

Clare's death led to the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme in England and Wales. Picture: PA
Clare's death led to the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme in England and Wales. Picture: PA
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WHEN Clare Wood began a relationship with George Appleton, a man she met on Facebook, there was no way of knowing her new partner had a history of violence against women.

A year later and despite several complaints to the police about Appleton’s behaviour, the 36-year-old was dead. She had been strangled and set on fire by a man who had served time for harassment and breaching a restraining order.

Clare’s death led to the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme in England and Wales. Allowing women to request information from the police about a partner’s previous convictions for domestic abuse or violence, it has come to be known simply as “Clare’s Law”.

The scheme came into force south of the Border earlier this year after pilots in four areas, including Greater Manchester, where Clare had lived.

According to the Home Office, the pilots provided more than 100 people with potentially life-saving information.

Police Scotland will soon announce details of a similar pilot after First Minister Alex Salmond agreed to proposals from the chief constable, Sir Stephen House, to set up a multi-agency group to look at a disclosure scheme.

The group, which includes representatives of the Scottish Government, the police and the Crown Office, met for the first time on Monday to discuss where to establish the pilot.

Their work is just one part of a new strategy which will not only use the full power of the law, but seek to re-shape the law in a bid to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse.

Currently there is no specific offence of domestic abuse in Scotland, despite there being around 60,000 recorded incidents last year of something which is notoriously under-reported.

Solicitor General Lesley Thomson has spoken of a need for “bespoke” legislation on the issue, which would allow for prosecutions of systematic and prolonged abuse, rather than for specific offences such as assault, breach of the peace and rape.

There may be those who question the need for this interventionist approach following a series of politically driven changes to our legal system in recent times. But figures published last week, showing nearly a fifth of women have been abused by a partner, speak to the scale of problem.

As if to illuminate the change that is needed in the collective mindset, the same study also showed that fewer than half of those who had experienced psychological or physical abuse at the hands of a partner considered themselves to be a victim of crime.

All of this has come too late for Clare Wood, but her death has helped set in train changes which could protect thousands more like her.