Editor-At-Large: Women must look after themselves, not rely on the law


Janet Street-Porter
Monday 31 October 2011 03:52

Clare Wood met George Appleton on Facebook. After their relationship ended, he turned up at her house, smashed the front door, and threatened her with an iron. Clare called the police, but four months later, Appleton strangled her, set her body on fire and then hanged himself.

Clare had no idea that her former boyfriend had a history of violence towards women. He regularly sought out partners on the internet, using fake names, threatening several, and kidnapped one at knifepoint. This time, it ended in death. A shocking story – and the Greater Manchester Police Force must take the blame for not treating Clare's complaints about her ex-partner seriously. They took three months to prepare to charge him with domestic violence, during which time he repeatedly broke bail conditions and was free to terrorise his victim.

Clare's father, supported by her local MP, Hazel Blears, has campaigned for women to be able to find out if their partners have a history of violence. At his daughter's inquest, the coroner agreed that such a change in the law would help women, and said the police had failed the victim by taking so long to act. Theresa May seems inclined to agree. She's ordered a 12-week consultation, which started last week, to consider a new law enabling women to ask the police if their partners have a history of domestic violence. At present, the police can disclose previous convictions only if there is a pressing need to do so, or if it will prevent a crime. If Clare's Law, as it is dubbed, enters the statute book, then the police could also proactively notify women if their partners have a history of violence.

These proposals are modelled on Sarah's Law. Following the murder of schoolgirl Sarah Payne, parents now have the legal right to check whether anyone with regular access to their children has been convicted of sex offences. Sarah's Law was a popular piece of legislation, backed by a national newspaper campaign and many public figures. Parents say they are grateful, but it hasn't stopped child abuse or paedophiles trying to gain access to the young. It may act as a deterrent, but it also drives abusers underground; they will just become more devious.

The death of Clare Wood was preventable, but a new law in her name will not prevent domestic violence. In the past, women met partners through friends or social situations where they were surrounded by people they knew or in places where they felt safe. Now, relationships start online, where fake personas are the norm. It's fantasy land where a violent past is erased with the click of a mouse. At what point will women go to the police and ask about new partners? Domestic violence creeps up on you: women are groomed to accept it, just as kids are groomed by paedophiles. So violence might already be a regular occurrence before a woman goes to the police.

Having discovered her partner has a violent past, will she leave him? Again, this is not a foregone conclusion. Often, women foolishly believe they are "the one" who can change a violent partner into something else. Tragically, that rarely is the case. And I'm worried about what happens to the information the police hand over to potential victims. What if the woman concerned decides to disclose it to relatives, neighbours or friends, even though the information is confidential? Soon a band of vigilantes could be on the prowl. There is simply no way to keep it a secret.

Although this proposed law could apply to violent women, 90 per cent of the time it will be used against men – another step in the process of demonising modern men. Surveys indicate that 91 per cent of us think that disclosing this information is a good idea, but, then, what if the person concerned has reformed? Does it not imply that a violent person is genetically programmed to repeat their actions over and over again? I find that rather chilling. Even if only one in a 100 convicted attackers repents and never reoffends, are we condemning them to a life where they will be sought out, named and shamed?

Even convicted criminals have rights. I am not at all sure that dishing out information about someone's past behaviour will result in less domestic abuse. Women need to be far more careful about forming new relationships, particularly online.

Alice Cooper, exemplary face of Halloween

Is there a nicer rock star than Alice Cooper? I've interviewed him quite a few times, and this bloke is not only charming, but highly intelligent and modest. The 63-year-old wrinkly I met last week sported his trademark leather jeans, black eyes and bullet jewellery, which is a look he hasn't changed in 35 years.

Alice could make me revise my opinion of Halloween, an American import that's become a huge event over here, eclipsing our traditional Bonfire Night. His current tour is called "Alice Cooper's Halloween Night of Fear". Last night he was at Alexandra Palace in London. Tonight, the gore-fest arrives in Manchester; on Monday, Halloween itself, it's in Glasgow, where the audience will be packed with witches, spooks and Goths, sporting fake blood and fangs.

Alice Cooper has been married to the same woman for 35 years, has never been unfaithful, is a devout Christian and plays golf six days a week, usually at 6am. What a role model!

Feeble French rocker Johnny Halliday has just announced his first UK tour. Sadly, he's a pygmy compared with Alice.

Keep your knickers on, ENO

I'm a huge fan of the French Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and chose one of his works on Desert Island Discs. So I was thrilled when English National Opera chose to stage the rarely performed Castor and Pollux. Rameau's music is sublime and his story-telling delightful.

At ENO, the singing of the young leads is wonderful. The orchestra conducted by Christian Curnyn is exemplary and full of vigour. Sadly, the staging is repulsive. Two singers have knickers round their ankles. There's nudity, masturbation and torture.

Call me dreary, but absolutely nothing was added to this opera by this crass undertaking. To see such musical talent wasted made me very angry.

Footpaths are for walkers only

National parks were created so everyone could enjoy the most beautiful parts of our countryside. But no one could have envisaged that "recreational users" would include growing numbers of off-road vehicles and motorbikes mashing up ancient green lanes and creating a huge amount of noise.

An excellent documentary on BBC4 tonight at 9pm in the series Tales from the National Parks highlights the ongoing battle between competing users in the Peak District, where locals formed a Green Lanes Alliance to get off-roaders banned. It's a highly emotive issue, reducing some to tears, and the park authority seems oddly reluctant to act. Only one green lane has temporarily been closed to traffic, and off-roaders plan to challenge that in the Court of Appeal.

The sooner they are declared ancient monuments and listed, the better.

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