Women may get right to know if a boyfriend has history of violence

Police can already reveal a man's violent past, but only if there is an urgent need to prevent crime
  • @cahalan

Women could earn the right to know if their partner has a history of violence or domestic abuse under plans being considered by the Government.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said the plans – dubbed Clare's Law – would allow women to make "informed choices about relationships", but civil liberty groups warned the move could be counterproductive.

The clamour for legislation on domestic abuse comes amid growing concern that women are increasingly meeting men via the internet with little knowledge of their past. The horrific story of Clare Wood, who was killed by George Appleton after meeting him on Facebook and was unaware of his record of domestic violence, is one example. After their relationship ended, he strangled her, set her body on fire and hanged himself.

Ms May said the 12-week consultation, which started yesterday, would consider whether a "right to know" national disclosure scheme should be brought in.

Modelled on The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, known as Sarah's Law, which gave parents the legal right to know if anyone with regular access to children posed a risk, it would allow police to proactively disclose information in certain circumstances and possibly even alert the family members of vulnerable women.

Proposals for a "right to ask" scheme, where an individual could ask the police about a person's previous history of domestic violence or violent acts, are also being considered along with the option of leaving the system as it is.

Police can already disclose previous convictions or charges to the public if there is a pressing need to do so to prevent crime, but the Home Secretary said the new scheme would "enable new partners of previously violent suspects to know more about their partner's history of abuse".

But Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said while police already had powers to warn vulnerable people about particular friends, neighbours or associates, any blanket disclosure could be "dangerously counterproductive".

"When a Sunday newspaper [the News of The World] 'named and shamed' suspected sex offenders 11 years ago some were attacked, others disappeared and mistakes saw innocent people getting bricks through their windows," she said.

Ms Wood, 36, was killed in Salford in February 2009. A mother, she met Appleton on Facebook. His history of violence against women included repeated harassment, threats and the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his ex-girlfriends.

Ms Wood first called police in October 2008 when Appleton damaged her front door and threatened her with an iron. Following her death, The Independent Police Complaints Commission ruled that she had been let down by officers and suggested a raft of changes to force policy and procedures.

Ms Wood's father Michael Brown backed calls for a "Clare's Law" in July, claiming that "the women of this country are under threat".