New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls 6:30 pm, 6th July 2020

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me a bit earlier than I was expecting.

I rise to speak to new clauses 4 to 11 in my name and that of Ms Harman, and to Government new clause 20. As we all know, these measures refer to the case of my constituent Natalie Connolly, who tragically died in 2016 at the hands of John Broadhurst—an individual who then used the rough sex defence to try to reduce his sentence. I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues on the Back Benches, and I want to make it clear that these provisions are not about trying to stop people engaging in BDSM if that is what they choose to do. They are about preventing the use of the rough sex defence to try to lessen the charge against an individual.

The tragedy with Natalie Connolly was that she was a perfectly normal person. She was not into this type of thing, but she entered into a relationship with a man who serially abused her by coercing her into this type of rough sex, and who eventually, during an appalling afternoon, ended up killing her in the most brutal and intimate way, the details of which are available and are tragic to read. The problem with this is that not only was she not into this—had been coerced into it—but that the whole conversation about the case resulted in Natalie Connolly’s name being associated with rough sex.

I was trying to work out a good way of getting across how vile this is. Jess Phillips, in her opening remarks, was incredibly sensitive and really summed this up; the reality is that Natalie Connolly was the victim of abuse and of a flawed legal system. I received an email from Natalie’s father, Alan Andrews, a couple of days ago, talking about this. I will read out some parts of the email, which is incredibly moving. He says, “There is no way that a man should be able to bat away brutal sex violence as just an accident and pave the way to get away with it. To cope with her private life being explored in intricate detail on top of the grief of losing her has been unimaginably hard for the whole family. Natalie is no longer here to tell us what he did to her or why he left her where he did. One thing is for certain; Natalie didn’t fantasise about being killed or leaving her daughter without a mum that night.”

When Natalie’s daughter, Maddison, gets a bit older and starts googling her mother, we do not want her to find all these stories about her mother being described in this way. We want Maddison to look on her mother with immense pride and say, “As a result of my mother’s death, thousands of women are now protected against this type of defence in the future.” That is why this is so incredibly important and I am so grateful to all the people who have been involved.

The amendments that the Mother of the House and I tabled, which were co-signed by 70 MPs from both sides of the House, look at the rough sex defence, the review from the Director of Public Prosecutions in the event of a charge being reduced, the anonymity of the victim, and at something else, which is peculiar to modern Britain, where people spend too much time, perhaps, looking at a different type of pornography online from what was perhaps available many years ago.

To find an answer to this problem, we cannot address all those issues; some are quite complex legal issues. They are certainly beyond someone like me, although not my colleagues. However, I am convinced that the Government have come up with a solution in new clause 20 that addresses the issues, either directly through the provision on the rough sex defence, or obliquely by removing the need for specific anonymity for the victims. I am grateful for how the Government have moved on that.

I will say a few specific thank yous to some people. My hon. Friend Laura Farris has provided a simpleton like me with extraordinary insight into the legal process, the like of which people like me really need. She is an incredibly important new Member of this House. I also thank the two Ministers on the Front Bench: my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins and my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, for their incredible hard work. They have been absolute rock stars—particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle.