U-turn on register for serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators will leave ‘gaping hole’, government warned

Maya Oppenheim
·5-min read
<p>Labour’s Yvette Cooper says the government is expected to vote against the register </p> (Getty/iStock)

Labour’s Yvette Cooper says the government is expected to vote against the register

(Getty/iStock)

An expected U-turn on plans to introduce a national register for serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking will leave a “gaping hole” in women’s safety, the government has been warned.

MPs and campaigners said the decision was particularly troubling given the government recently pledged to take action to tackle violence against women and girls in the wake of the killing of Sarah Everard.

An amendment to the domestic abuse bill to create a register of serial perpetrators passed by a landslide in the House of Lords last month, in the wake of mounting anger over Everard’s case.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, suggested the government would relook at creating a national serial perpetrators register earlier in the day before the vote passed.

“There is something about perpetrators and their serial offending that has to be addressed,” Ms Patel told MPs. “There is no question about that at all… I will be very candid: we will look at all measures.”

But Labour’s Yvette Cooper has now told The Independent she understands the government is expected to vote against the register when all of the House of Lords amendments to the domestic abuse bill are considered in the Commons on Thursday.

Ms Cooper previously proposed an amendment to the landmark legislation, calling for a new category of offender, to include perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking who are “high risk” or who repeatedly abuse victims.

She welcomed the surge in women “coming forward” to talk about personal experiences of “feeling threatened on the streets or in the home” in the wake of Everard’s disappearance and death.

The MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “The government has rightly committed to carrying out a ‘violence against women and girls’ strategy. But not enacting the perpetrator's register is a gaping hole.

“In too many cases when something really awful happens and you see a terrible case of violence against a woman or murder of a woman, there is a pattern and nobody has stepped in.

“Everyone looks back and says something should have been done and somebody should have stepped in. Yet still, there isn’t enough action taken at an early stage to prevent someone from going on to hurt women again and moving on from one victim to the next.

“Action isn’t taken to assess what risk victims are at. That is what we are asking for – a coordinated approach.”

The register being proposed would ensure serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators are placed on the existing violent and sexual offenders register (Visor) and monitored in the same way that serious sex offenders are.

Campaigners say the register would help address institutional failures which enable serial abusers to subject multiple women to domestic violence and stalking.

Laura Richards, an expert who helped Ms Cooper draw up the amendment, said: “The government has pledged to prioritise women’s safety and they must support our amendment in the commons. To vote against it would be unconscionable in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder and the outpouring from women.

“We need a national, consistent and coordinated approach to identifying serial abusers and stalkers, and a perpetrators strategy. Amendment 42 would ensure this happens and must be supported on Thursday.”

The former top Metropolitan Police violent crime analyst previously told The Independent her work at Scotland Yard had shaped her understanding about the “evolving and escalating abuse” of serial domestic violence offenders, stalkers and serial killers.

Ms Richards also helped develop the domestic homicide review process in the early 2000s and is a former adviser to the National Police Chiefs Council.

She said: “I realised most of the offenders have a history of domestic abuse. It is a pattern of behaviour that is routinely ignored and dismissed time and time again.

“Shana Grice, Janet Scott, Pearl Black, Linah Kenza, Maria Stubbings, Kerri McAuley, Molly McLaren, Hollie Gazzard, Justene Reece, Kirsty Treloar, Jane Clough, Alice Ruggles, and Linzi Ashton were murdered by serial perpetrators who had been violent and abusive to other women before they killed them.

“I have worked on many cases over the years with the same failures and the same patterns. When women and girls report the known men who abuse them, the perpetrator’s behaviour is most often left unchecked, despite the fact they may have abused multiple women.”

Ms Richards, who has been calling for a serial offenders register since 2004, warned men who are able to abuse the person they love the most are “often capable of abusing others.”

Two women a week are killed in England and Wales by a current or ex-partner, while one in four women will suffer domestic abuse at some point during their lives.

Stalking is one of the most frequently experienced forms of abuse, with official figures showing one in five women and one in 10 men will be stalked in their lifetime. The Independent has previously reported on how stalking and domestic abuse have risen in the pandemic.

Zarah Sultana, a Labour MP, told The Independent: “When it comes to domestic violence and sexual harassment, women are often blamed and it is as though they were responsible for what has happened.

“People ask where they were, what they were doing, and what they were wearing. A register that monitors these perpetrators would place emphasis and responsibility on the perpetrators which would help to tackle the culture of victim-blaming.”

A government spokesperson denied there was any “u-turn” and said they had never fully committed to a separate register. Adding a new category to the existing Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements would “add complexity to those arrangements without any gain.”

Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangement (MAPPA) - which consists of the National Probation Service, the prison service and police forces - monitors dangerous sexual and violent offenders in England and Wales.

The spokesperson added: “The Lords Amendment is not calling for a register, but instead changes to MAPPA ... The government agrees that high-harm domestic abuse perpetrators need to be effectively monitored and supervised, which is why serial and high harm domestic abuse offenders are eligible for management under MAPPA.”

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