Manchester is leading the way in a campaign to allow women to check whether their partners have a history of domestic abuse, under radical new plans being considered by Home Secretary Theresa May.
‘Clare’s Law’ would allow people with suspicions about people they meet on the Internet to find out if they have a criminal record for abuse or related offences.
The legislation is named after Clare Wood, who was killed by her partner George Appleton, who she met online, in Salford in 2009.
She was unaware that Appleton, who committed suicide following the murder, had a string of convictions for violence against previous partners.
Radio station Key 103, Salford and Eccles MP Hazel Blears and Clare’s father Michael Brown are meeting key figures in London today after the campaign launch last week sparked a huge public response.
A Salford domestic abuse charity has also given the idea their blessing.
Key 103 News Editor John Pickford said: “I attended the inquest into her death several weeks ago, and the coroner said, as part of her recommendations, that she would be writing to the Home Office to say there should be a law which would enable women who were at risk to be told if their partners had a violent past.
“We launched the campaign last Monday, and the response has been incredible, it’s been so quick.”
The station has put a petition on its website, and the story has already attracted a good deal of attention in the national media.
The Mail on Sunday put the story on the front page and the majority of the weekend’s papers carried it.
The Independent was the most critical paper, warning in its leading column that the database of domestic violence perpetrators was too incomplete for the idea to work.
John attributes the scale of the support and response to the fact that it affects so many people and the tragedy of Clare’s story.
“We interviewed a woman last week who said she had found herself in similar circumstances, but escaped the guy,” he said.
“It touches the lives of so many people, because of Internet dating and Facebook, meeting strangers you have no knowledge about the background of. It touches a nerve.
“A lot of people are thinking: ‘That could be me, and I want to know if my partner has got a violent past. I can make my own decisions but at least I’ve been forewarned.’”
Labour MP Mrs Blears, who represents the constituency Clare lived in at the time of her death, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is a really important safeguard. It is not just the police releasing willy-nilly details of people’s past history.”
Home Secretary Theresa May is said to be strongly considering putting forward the legislation.
However, some Conservative MPs expressed reservations about the law.
MP for South Swindon Robert Buckland, who sits on the Commons Justice Committee, said: “We’re all in favour of curbing violence against women but we have to be certain this will not lead to fishing expeditions by women demanding confidential information about potential boyfriends without proper justification.
“You cannot have a carte blanche system where people can simply turn up at a police station, give the name of a boyfriend or potential boyfriend, and expect the police to open up all the files on him.
“There will have to be strict controls on any proposal of this nature. I am very keen to work with Hazel Blears to make sure these concerns can be addressed in any future legislation.”
Similar legislation was previously suggested by the Association of Chief Police Officers, but their recommendation was rejected by the Home Office.
The law would allow both men and women at risk to obtain information about the previous convictions of partners they have met on Internet websites, although it was not clear exactly who would be able to get the information and how much data they would be able to access.
Currently the police are able to share such information with other public services such as the NHS and Children’s Services, but not with members of the public.
The naming of the legislation has strong parallels with ‘Sarah’s Law’, which allows parents to be given information on the whereabouts of child sex offenders, and which became law last year following the murder of eight-year-old Sarah Payne by paedophile Roy Whiting in 2000.
However, the campaign for Sarah’s Law was controversial, with the government initially turning down demands for it after vigilante groups in Portsmouth smashed windows and torched cars, and a Gwent paediatrician had her door daubed with graffiti branding her a paedophile.
Rights campaign groups such as Liberty also expressed concern about the new legislation’s potential infringements of civil liberties.
To sign Key 103’s petition, visit http://www.key103.co.uk/news/local/clares-law-petition/