Top police chief calls for Clare’s Law to cut abuse

Clare Wood
Clare Wood
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The father of a Yorkshire woman who was brutally murdered by an abusive ex-boyfriend has been backed by one of Britain’s most senior policemen in his fight to change the law to protect partners from domestic violence.

Michael Brown, from Batley, handed in a petition at Downing Street yesterday for the introduction of “Clare’s Law”, which would give men and women the right to know whether their partners have a history of abuse.

The campaign is named after his daughter, Clare Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by George Appleton, an ex-boyfriend she had met on Facebook, who had a record including the kidnap of a former partner at knifepoint.

Police knew Appleton had three previous convictions under the Protection from Harassment Act, but the law prevented them from warning Miss Wood of the danger he posed to women.

Last night the head of Yorkshire’s largest police force came out in favour of changing the law, claiming data protection and human rights legislation had been weighted in favour of criminals.

West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison said: “You will never find a chief constable who does not think offending behaviour should be made more public.

“What we have lived through is decades of protections being given to offenders and the context that goes around that relates to data protection and human rights legislation.

“For example, other police forces have had their fingers burned by disclosing the photographs of some of their most prolific offenders, particularly prolific burglars, so that the public are aware.

“Legislation has shown them the error of their ways but, if this were legislated for, the disclosure of people’s offending behaviour seems to me to be likely to put a brake on their future behaviour.

“I support it in principle and I applaud Clare’s relatives who are pursuing this in her name.”

He said requests for information should be handled by the Criminal Records Bureau, leaving police free to investigate crime and pursue offenders.

The Home Office said last July it was considering implementing Clare’s Law, offering measures similar to those giving parents the right to know whether someone in contact with their children has child sex convictions. The Child Sex Offender Disclosure scheme was rolled out across the country under “Sarah’s Law”, named after Sarah Payne, who was murdered by paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000.

Calls for reform have been led by coroner Jennifer Leeming, who presided over the inquest into Miss Wood’s death.

She heard Miss Wood, 36, who lived in Salford, made repeated calls to Greater Manchester Police in the months before her murder in February 2009, claiming Appleton had harassed, threatened to kill and sexually assaulted her. But a series of blunders by officers meant the case was given a lower priority than it should have been.

Appleton, 40, who was dubbed the “Facebook Fugitive”, went on the run after the killing and was found hanged six days later.

Mr Brown, whose daughter was a former pupil at St John Fisher Catholic High School in Dewsbury, said she was one of 120 people each year who were killed by their partners but her death had “woken up the British public” and attracted interest from as far afield as the US and Australia.

“The world is watching for a lead from the UK’s Government, the cradle of democracy, and I pray that they make the right decision,” he added.

An independent investigation ruled Miss Wood had been badly let down by Greater Manchester Police, but Mr Brown revealed he often wondered whether he could have done to more to save her.