The Murder of Clare Wood
Clare’s Law : What is it?
The aim of Clare’s Law is to give members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquiries about any individual who they are in a relationship with or who is in a relationship with someone they know if there is concern that abuse is taking place. Modelled on the existing initiative ‘Sarah’s Law – giving parents the right to check on paedophiles in their area – Clare’s Law allows access to vital information about someone’s violent past and crimes. It was initially set up as a pilot scheme in September 2012 across four areas, Greater Manchester, Gwent, Nottinghamshire and Wiltshire and is now fully implemented across England & Wales.
Clare Wood, 36, a mother of one from Salford, Greater Manchester met George Appleton, 40, on an internet dating site and their relationship developed on Facebook. Miss Wood was from the outset charmed by Appleton’s genial persona after meeting him online but his violent side soon surfaced. She was also dangerously unaware of his violent history of abuse and harassment of women including abducting a former girlfriend at knifepoint.
Other central characters associated with the tragedy and final implementation of Clare’s Law include Michael Brown (70), Clare’s father, a former prison officer from Batley, West Yorkshire, who started a campaign to bring the new (then unnamed) law allowing the disclosure of a partner’s violent history. The campaign was championed by Labour Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears and Tory MP Robert Buckland, member of the Commons Justice Committee. Clare’s Law was finally drafted into policy by Home Secretary Theresa May in March 2014 which forces the police to tell women, or men, if their partner has a history of violence.
In February 2009, 36-year-old mother Clare Wood who had been subjected to harassment by former partner George Appleton, 40, was raped and strangled by him before her body was set on fire and later discovered in her home in Salford, Greater Manchester. Six days after the brutal murder, Appleton, who was still on the run and had become known as the ‘Facebook Killer’ after prowling the website for partners, was later found hanged in a derelict pub. The violent killer who had evaded justice from a sickening crime was found to have a history of violence against women which included kidnapping a former girlfriend.
The course of the investigation in 2009 discovered that Miss Clare Wood had contacted the police the year before on several occasions alleging that Appleton had caused criminal damage, harassed and threatened to rape her. It was revealed that a week before Miss Wood died Appleton had been given a harassment order for smashing down the front door of her home in St Simon Street, Salford.
Initially Miss Wood had told her father Michael Brown that Appleton only had a criminal record for driving offences. She, like her father had no knowledge of her partner’s violent background where he had been jailed for three years in 2002 for harassing another woman. He had also received a six month sentence the previous year after breaching a restraining order on another former girlfriend.
A litany of disturbing stories were disclosed during the inquest revealing Appleton’s pathological need to control women over the years. One former girlfriend, Carole Agnew, who invited Appleton to move in with her after a brief courtship, described how he soon turned violent, threatening to kill her dog, throw acid in her face and burn her alive in her own home. After a terrifying period when Appleton stalked her, both physically and through relentless phone calls, he was eventually imprisoned for 30 months.
Reflecting on Appleton’s behaviour and violent men like him, Coroner Jennifer Leeming said women in abusive relationships should have the right to know about their partner’s violent past. Miss Wood’s father, Michael Brown backed such a plea when he commented ‘My daughter wasn’t stupid. If she had known about that man’s past, she would have taken herself out of there in a heartbeat.’
After the investigation into events leading up to Miss Wood’s death Police watchdogs concluded that she had been badly let down by ‘individual and systematic’ failures by the force. Soon after the investigation, the campaign for Clare’s Law began. led by former Labour Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears and Miss Wood’s father, both of whom also recognised the need for safeguards to prevent abuse of the new law.
Former Home Office Minister Ms Blears, who was Ms Wood’s MP in Salford emphasised the importance of such a law. “Until women are given the right to know if their partner has a history of serial domestic abuse, they can’t be sure of the risk that they face”
Ms Blears also reminded critics that the available national database made Clare’s Law checks simple to carry out. The campaign was also boosted by the contributions of award winning radio journalist Michelle Livesey of Manchester based Key103 Radio, who, on hearing a Coroner’s comments calling for a change in the law to better protect women from Domestic violence, decided to work with the victim’s family leading to a vital petition being delivered to Number 10.
In May 2011 Home Secretary the Rt Hon Theresa May who had followed the case with great interest announced that she was considering introducing ‘Clare’s Law’ which would force the police to tell women if their partner had a history of violence. A year long pilot scheme was soon rolled out initially across four police forces in England and Wales. The pilot saw over 250 applications being made for information to determine if partners had a history of domestic violence. Despite criticisms from various quarters and accusations that it was a questionable policy, Clare’s Law was eventually introduced into law by the Home Office in March 2014 saying that it was designed to ‘prevent tragic accidents’ and had the ‘fully supportive’ backing of the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The Home Office said the pilot had provided more than a 100 people with potentially life-saving information. Michael Brown, Clare’s father who had tirelessly campaigned for the law said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ that the scheme had come into force.