Women should be given the right to know whether their partner has a history of committing domestic abuse, and violent men who drive their wives and girlfriends to suicide could be charged with killing them, police said yesterday.
Recommendations made yesterday by senior officers will target Britain's estimated 25,000 serial domestic abusers who could be required to register on a police database similar to that being piloted under anti-paedophile schemes. It would give women the "right to know" whether they and their children were safe from aggressive men.
Alongside the proposals, which would need to be approved by Parliament, there would be a new offence of "liability for suicide" which could make it easier for prosecutors to secure successful convictions. It is hoped this would reduce the suicide rate – one in three women who kill themselves have been abused by their partner.
Police say it could be instrumental in tackling so-called honour violence directed against Asian women in the UK who are two and a half times more likely to end their lives than white women. A similar "abatement to suicide" law has been operation in India for 25 years and Swedish women also have similar protection.
One victim who was driven to the edge was Natasha Reilly, 19, who was regularly attacked by her one-time boyfriend. She became depressed and twice attempted suicide, and after a final attack was left nursing a number of injuries including a black eye, bruises and a cut face. Despite the violence inflicted on her, she said: "He had beaten me up countless times and I had been a fool and forgiven him because I was so frightened."
The review by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) was ordered by former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith amid mounting concern that too little was being done to protect women from abusive partners and their families. The report said the new laws would act as a "powerful deterrent" to potential abusers and that existing legislation was over-reliant on a single incident to establish proof when abuse cases come to court.
The Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, welcomed the recommendations which include the power of judges to issue "go orders", preventing violent men visiting a woman's home for two weeks. "Violence against women and girls is never acceptable. Our biggest challenge is preventing it from happening in the first place and changing attitudes that condone it, particularly among young men," he said.
Wiltshire Chief Constable Brian Moore accepted there could be opposition to the creation of another database containing the personal details of abusers, some of whom may not have been convicted of a specific offence.
Under the scheme, offenders who repeatedly beat women would have to notify police if they moved house or changed their name. Relevant agencies could approach a vulnerable woman if her new partner has a history of abuse or women could access information on their partners if they had reason to fear for their safety.
Mr Moore said that adding the name of every domestic abuser would "deluge" the authorities and the register should focus on repeat offenders. A study based on data gathered by Northumbria Police found that 18 per cent of domestic offenders went on to attack another woman, supporting a 2004 study in the London area into 400 sexual assaults and domestic attacks. Earlier this year, it was estimated that one in five of all violent crimes was related to domestic violence.
But Sandra Horley, of domestic violence charity Refuge, questioned the need for more laws. "As it stands, almost three-quarters of abused women do not report the abuse they suffer to the police and many feel they have been badly let down by the system. Clearly, this needs to change," she said.