26 October 2023

Wiltshire Police reviewing domestic violence disclosures under Clare’s Law

26 October 2023

A police force is urgently reviewing every application it received under the domestic violence disclosure scheme Clare’s Law over an eight-year period.

Wiltshire Police said it was “truly sorry” as it announced that more than 3,500 applications, made between April 2015 and August 2023, were now being re-examined.

The review follows concerns linked to disclosures made under Clare’s Law by one member of Wiltshire Police staff, who is currently suspended from the force.

A small number of applications, including those in which some details were provided, have already been examined and found to include failures to disclose information to those at risk from domestic violence.

We know there have been some failures to disclose information which could have protected those most at risk from domestic violence. For this, I am truly sorry

Chief Constable Catherine Roper, who apologised for the failings, said the force would attempt to contact anyone they felt was at risk.

She said: “Having already reviewed a small number of these applications, we know there have been some failures to disclose information which could have protected those most at risk from domestic violence.

“For this, I am truly sorry.”

The force made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) earlier this year regarding concerns about the staff member.

That member of staff was served with a notice of investigation by the IOPC and is currently suspended from the force.

An independent investigation into the issue, as well as concerns subsequently identified by Wiltshire Police, is being undertaken by the IOPC.

Ms Roper added: “As we work to fully understand the extent of these failures, fully supporting the independent IOPC investigation, it is vital that we are honest and transparent with our communities and so are reaching out to you to explain the current situation.

“We are now conducting an urgent audit of Clare’s Law applications made to us since April 2015, which is when the member of staff began working in this department.

“The total number of applications made to us between April 2015 and the end of August 2023 is just over 3,500.”

Of those 3,500 applications, information was disclosed in 1,195 cases.

Under the scheme, information is disclosed under two processes – the right to ask and the right to know.

The right to ask allows people to apply for information about a current or former partner if they have concerns they may have a history of abuse and are a risk.

This is a tragic consequence of an organisation which, for some time before our current Chief Constable, was not performing adequately across many areas

The right to know process is where police or a partner agency comes across information that indicates a person is at risk of domestic abuse.

Ms Roper added: “We have allocated dedicated resources to review every application made to us since April 2015.

“Where we feel there is any risk to any individual, we will be attempting to contact the applicants.

“Whilst the IOPC conduct their independent investigation based on the referrals we’ve made so far, we will consider making further referrals to them as we work through our review.

“I ask our communities to trust us, accepting that we’ve already identified a failure in our service.

“We have put more scrutiny in place than we’ve ever had in this area of our business. Please continue to talk to us if you have any concerns or information regarding people at risk of domestic abuse.

“I would like to take this opportunity to wholeheartedly apologise on behalf of the organisation to anyone we have let down.”

Philip Wilkinson, police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire, said he was “appalled” at the failings and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

He said: “These failures by Wiltshire Police to carry out its duty – to the fullest – and to protect those at risk of domestic or sexual violence is truly shocking. There are no words which can convey how appalled I am.

“While I commend Wiltshire’s Chief Constable for her open and honest approach to informing our communities of this, and her subsequent apology, I am horrified at the prospect there may be more victims of domestic or sexual assault who could have been safeguarded by the force beforehand.

“My primary concern is for any victims – or potential victims. The Chief Constable and I both agree the need to offer immediate advice, support and protection, as necessary, is of utmost importance.

“Anyone who thinks they may be affected should follow the guidelines from the force and contact them immediately, especially if they feel they are in immediate danger.

“At its very simplest, this is a tragic consequence of an organisation which, for some time before our current Chief Constable, was not performing adequately across many areas.

“While I will not comment on the details of this independent referral by the IOPC, I would like to make it very, very clear that I expect this investigation to uncover all those responsible for this identified organisational failure – across management and other staff who will have held oversight and supervisory roles during the timeframe – to be held accountable for their actions, or lack of.”

Anyone who has made an application under Clare’s Law, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), between April 2015 and August 2023 can contact the force directly by emailing [email protected].

The force urged anyone in immediate danger to ring 999.

It added that people considering making a new application under Clare’s Law can still do this, with the force able to process new applications.

A spokesman for the IOPC said: “We can confirm we are independently investigating allegations that a staff member at Wiltshire Police has failed to comply with the requirements of Clare’s Law (the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme) in dealing with a number of applications.

“Our investigation began in September this year following a referral from Wiltshire Police and is taking account of additional information provided by the force.

“We have served a notice on the staff member to advise them they are subject to investigation.

“The serving of such a notice does not mean that disciplinary proceedings will automatically follow.

“We are examining police records and documentation to investigate whether the relevant applications were handled in accordance with local and national policies.

“We are also considering the staff member’s training history.”

Clare’s Law, which was rolled out in England and Wales in 2014, was created by Michael Brown following the death of his daughter Clare Wood, 36, from Yorkshire.

Ms Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton in 2009. An inquest into her death revealed that Appleton had a history of violent behaviour against women, which Ms Wood was not informed of.

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