Smith heckled over 'gimmicks' on abuse

Home Secretary begins consultation to tackle domestic violence
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Indy Politics

Jacqui Smith, Britain's first female Home Secretary, was ambushed at the launch of her consultation on domestic violence yesterday when a leading campaigner she had invited to the event denounced the plans as "gimmicks".

Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge, stunned ministers and police at the round-table discussion when she described Government action as "piecemeal" and condemned proposals for a register of serial domestic abusers.

She said: "The perpetrators' register ... is a gimmick and it doesn't address the root problem. The majority of violent men don't come to the attention of police and it won't keep women safe. Police can't be expected to monitor relationships and love lives of offenders.

"The Government is hoping to get away with useless initiatives like this register and it is hypocritical to sound tough and do little." Ms Smith tried to interrupt. The Solicitor General, Vera Baird, eventually intervened to argue the Government's case.

The episode coincided with the Independent Police Complaints Commission announcing that it was investigating Greater Manchester Police after a man murdered his former partner days after police had visited her home.

Brian Taylor, 29, stabbed Katie Summers, 24, while she was at home with their two children. The Commission said officers visited four times in the days before her death and the couple had a history of domestic violence. Last month, Taylor was jailed for life.

Yesterday's consultation, billed as the largest attempt to tackle violence against women and girls, considered how police could use technology to track offenders and warn those at risk.

Ms Smith denied planning a new register of offenders but said she wanted to look into how police could share data.

Brian Moore, the chief constable of Wiltshire Police, will lead the review into police powers that can be used to tackle domestic violence.

"Some people may be appalled that they are having their relationships tracked in this way but others will see that if the person who they may be letting into their house has a significant record, then people will want to know about that," he said. Police will consider adopting "go orders", trialled in Europe, which could force violent partners to stay clear of their victims' homes. An opinion poll released by the Home Office yesterday showed one in five people surveyed approved of men slapping wives or girlfriends for wearing revealing clothes in public. Six per cent said it was always acceptable; 14 per cent said it was sometimes acceptable.

Almost one in seven said it was fine to hit women who nagged and moaned at their husbands or boyfriends.

Ms Smith also called on fashion retailers and video game companies to eliminate products that sexualised young girls and encouraged attacks on women.

She unveiled a project that is charged with determining whether games, music and fashion that sexualise girls are linked to attacks.

"I'm not directly telling manufacturers what they should or shouldn't do but if, as many people believe, these products are not acceptable for young girls, manufacturers should read the writing on the wall and take notice."

A fact-finding review will investigate the effects of products aimed at teenagers, while a new advisory group will study how schools can help change attitudes towards domestic violence.