Home Office launches review of Clare's Law after claims police are 'taking too long' to give vital information

The Home Office has launched a review of a law designed to protect victims of domestic abuse after an investigation by The Yorkshire Post reveals thousands of men and women are applying to police every year over concerns their partners have a violent past.

Creator and campaigner of Clare's Law Michael Brown, whose daughter Clare Wood was tragically murdered by her ex partner 10 years ago, expressed his fears the legislation is becoming 'redundant' due to police forces taking too long to give out vital information.

Mr Brown's concerns arise after the murder of Rosie Darbyshire, 27, in Preston in February by her boyfriend Ben Topping just 11 days after she had applied to find out if he had a history of domestic violence.

Mr Brown, of South Elmsall, West Yorkshire, is now calling for changes to Clare's Law. At the moment, police have 35 days to respond to such requests but Mr Brown wants shorter response times.

Michael Brown, of West Yorkshire, is calling for an urgent review of Clare's Law, which he campaigned for following the murder of his daughter.

"My daughter died because some 'man' couldn't understand no and the police are telling me it is going to take 35 days for a reply," Mr Brown said angrily.

"Five weeks that some woman is going to be tortured, battered, killed? Five weeks, when all they have to do is press a button to find out a person's history. With ANPR you can tell if a car is taxed, MOT, insured instantly. This is a car at the end of the day. Why not yes or no to Clare's Law in 48 hours and then take their time to explain their reasons? It's not good enough.

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"I want to see a review of Clare's Law and who has decided the five week period when these men and women are in clear danger. Rosie Darbyshire's case has highlighted what can happen, but this must have happened more times than enough. If I had known the deadline was five weeks I would have done something sooner."

Clare Wood was murdered in February 2009.

Today, the Home Office confirmed it is working with police to review the guidance used by forces, including "the time frame for disclosure".

Figures obtained by The Yorkshire Post show there were 6,313 right to know requests to police forces across the country in the 12 months up to March 2018.

As part of the Freedom of Information requests submitted by The Yorkshire Post, we requested to find out the average length it took forces across the country to respond to Claire's Law requests. None were able to provide us with the data.

Out of the four Yorkshire forces we approached, responses were received from West Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Police.

West Yorkshire Police recorded 408 right to ask requests during 2018.

Greater Manchester Police - the force which investigated Clare's murder - had 691 right to ask requests in 2018, while Lancashire Police - the force which investigated Rosie Darbyshire's murder - had 13 requests from men and 935 from women in the same year.

Detective Chief Inspector David Cowley, from the West Yorkshire Police Safeguarding Central Governance Unit, said it was encouraging for Yorkshire's largest police force to see people taking advantage of Claire's Law, but stressed that at an point someone is identified as being in immediate danger, action will be taken by police.

DCI Cowley said: “Initial checks will be completed as soon as possible to assess whether the disclosure application should be progressed and whether there is an immediate or imminent risk of harm. If following the initial risk assessment, the police decide that the disclosure application should continue, the person who made the application must be seen in a face-to-face meeting.

“All agencies responsible for safeguarding victims of domestic abuse will check to see whether relevant information exists and if it does, consideration will be given to disclosing this information where necessary to protect the person from harm.

“At any point, if it is identified there is an immediate/imminent risk of harm, then action will be taken by the police to safeguard those at risk."

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Domestic Abuse, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe said: "The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (Clare's Law) is an essential tool to inform victims and potential victims at risk of domestic abuse. The disclosure process must balance the risk posed with our obligations in handling personal data and ensuring that it is complete and accurate.

"We recognise that informing someone that their partner has a history of abuse can create greater risk and we must ensure that the right safeguards are in place through advice, support and protection where necessary. We know that serial perpetrators of domestic abuse may move across police force boundaries and we may need to seek background information from other law enforcement partners so that we have a full picture of their offending and have properly assessed the risk.

"While some complex enquiries can take some time to complete, we seek to disclose information at the earliest possible stage to protect a potential victim and many will be completed far sooner than the 35 day time limit. We are working with the College of Policing to ensure that information on serial perpetrators is more accessible to police systems and an online form is being rolled out to forces to speed up disclosure applications.”