May I take this opportunity to thank those on both Front Benches for their work on this Bill? I would also like to thank colleagues, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), for their contributions.
Before I talk about the Bill, I would like to pay tribute to Leanne McNuff. Leanne was the sister of my soon-to-be brother-in-law. Leanne was murdered in 2012 by her ex-partner in the most horrific circumstances—in front of their then four-year-old son. I know how this has affected the lives of all involved, and that grief will never go away, but I would like to think that this debate and any legislation passed by this House will go a long way to protect victims—and give Leanne’s family some comfort—so that crimes like this do not happen again.
May I welcome the broad intentions behind the Bill? It is a step in the right direction to give victims greater support and protection, but it is only a small step. A recent local case has exposed just how enormous the burden is that victims of stalking are expected to carry, and it has displayed gaps in support that these proposals will not fill. My constituent Nikita contacted me after she was subject to a horrific stalking ordeal, which included threats to her life and her children. Her perpetrator has now thankfully been moved to a psychiatric intensive care unit, but this has not been the end of her ordeal—far from it. He has been placed in an NHS unit less than a third of a mile from Nikita’s house. She has bumped into him in a local shop, and she has found him outside her house. Nikita can also see the NHS unit from her bedroom window.
Understandably, this is causing Nikita severe anxiety and concern for her safety and the safety of her family, but instead of moving the perpetrator away, Nikita finds herself offered new housing by the local authority, and she is expected to accept this move away from her support network. The expectation seems always to be on the victim to change their life. Indeed, when I wrote to the local NHS about their decision to place the perpetrator so close to Nikita’s home, it referred to its policy of placing individuals where they are close to local connections with friends and family in the community that they are familiar with.
The system has totally failed Nikita, and I am concerned that the Bill may become a lost opportunity to implement meaningful reform that protects the victims of domestic abuse and stalking. That underscores why we need a whole-system approach from across society not only to provide immediate support, but to prevent the unacceptable guilt or sense of wrongdoing that many victims feel when they are expected to change their life so dramatically. While this Bill contains many steps in the right direction, even if they are long overdue, it should go further. Until every victim of domestic abuse is given the protection, support and justice they deserve, we cannot rest. I hope that stories such as Leanne’s and Nikita’s bring to light just how far we have to go before society treats the victim with the dignity, compassion and basic respect that they deserve.