Amendment 132

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 21 May 2024.

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:

Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

132: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—“Licence conditions for serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements(1) A condition of the release and licence of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators is that they must be included in the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.(2) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows. (3) In section 325 (arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—(a) in subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327;” insert ““relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”;(b) after subsection (2)(a) insert—“(aza) relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators,”.(4) After section 327 (Section 325: interpretation) insert—“327ZA Interpretation of relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator(1) For the purposes of section 325, a person (“P”) is a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” if P has been convicted of a specified offence or an associate offence and meets either the condition in subsection (2)(a) or the condition in subsection (2)(b).(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the conditions are—(a) P is a relevant serial offender, or(b) a risk of serious harm assessment has identified P as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.(3) An offence is a “specified offence” for the purposes of this section if it is a specified domestic abuse offence or a specified stalking offence.(4) In this section—“relevant serial offender” means a person convicted on more than one occasion for the same specified offence, or a person convicted of more than one specified offence;“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.(5) Within 12 months of the day on which the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 is passed the Secretary of State must commission a review into the operation of the provisions of this section.””

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, in rising to speak to Amendments 132 and 133 I take the opportunity to apologise to the House. I asked a supplementary question at Question Time that related to university funding and I did not refer to my interests in the register.

The amendments are the same as those that we moved in Committee and they are similar to amendments that we have moved to other Bills, but the Government have not acted and women continue to be attacked and killed as men with violent histories are allowed to escalate their behaviour by moving from victim to victim.

In Committee, the Minister said, as many Ministers have said before, that the Government agree that the robust management of perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking is crucial to keep the public safe and that they completely agree with the spirit of the amendments, but that the objectives can be met through current provision and policy.

I beg to disagree. All the evidence demonstrates that this is not enough. Various initiatives have been, and are being, piloted, and countless letters are written to police forces urging them to make proper use of Clare’s law and stalking protection orders, but still it is clear that offences on a discretionary basis are not being treated with the same seriousness under MAPPA 2 and MAPPA 3. Where lives are at stake, a postcode lottery—which is what we have at present—is not acceptable.

This year a new report was published, following a national domestic homicide project and a Home Office-funded research project led by the National Police Chiefs Council—the NPCC. It showed that domestic abusers who went on to kill their partners were known to police in 80% of cases. Some 60% of those had been reported to the police specifically for domestic abuse, and a third of offenders were known to other agencies. The NPCC said that this highlighted the need for a

“multi-agency approach to effectively safeguard victims”.

The victims and perpetrators are known by many agencies and the most dangerous and serial perpetrators must be managed by MAPPA in order to close down opportunities for them to reoffend, and to ensure that their history is captured on the violent and sexual offenders register. This must be accessible whenever and wherever they move, just as with sex offenders.

The Minister might refer me to Clare’s law, which is certainly welcome, but it is simply not working in the majority of cases. It leaves the onus on potential victims to protect themselves, instead of placing positive obligations on the perpetrators. It affords no protection when the abuser leaves prison, moves address and targets a new woman—or when they change their name, which many serial perpetrators do.

Women repeatedly report they have been sent away or told by police that they are not a vetting agency. Clare’s law is failing because there is no duty on police to proactively identify, assess and manage serial perpetrators, or to record information about them and share it. NPCC data from October 2021 to March 2022 reveals that at least 56% of criminal background requests made by women were denied. This is truly shocking and demonstrates why the amendments are necessary.

I could cite so many examples that demonstrate the urgent need for these two amendments, but I will limit myself to six cases. I mentioned Zoe Dronfield in Committee. The man who nearly murdered her was released on 2 May. We have had to continuously push to ensure that he is managed at category 3 of MAPPA, when this should have been automatic. There are concerns about future women that he might target. We know that he has changed his appearance, but Zoe is not allowed even to see a photo. Why is it that his rights are being protected?

Chloe Holland was coercively controlled and abused by Marc Masterton. She died in hospital in March 2023 after trying to take her life because of him. Before doing so she reported him for domestic abuse and gave a two-hour video interview. He was sent to prison last year. Hearing of Chloe’s case, another victim, Zoe Castle, had the courage to come forward. Masterton has just been convicted for coercively controlling her and was sentenced to a further three years and seven months.

Zoe had just turned 18 when she moved in with Masterton and she lived in constant fear of him. She had to bend to his will and was fearful that she would lose her daughter. He hit over the head with a glass bottle, threw her into a wardrobe and, in another incident, picked her up and placed her in a freezing cold bath. When he comes out of prison, this serial perpetrator will do it again—he always does. He should go on a register, with stringent conditions.

“Danielle”—a pseudonym used to protect the victim’s identity for safety reasons—met her ex-partner through work in 2022. About six months into the relationship, it became clear that her new boyfriend had an alcohol problem. She thought she could save him, or that he would change for her, but he turned out to be abusive and attacked her twice in her own home. In a drunken assault, he grabbed her by the throat and hit her head against a wall, leaving only when she managed to reach the front door and scream for help.

Danielle said that she had never heard of Clare’s law when it was mentioned by her social worker soon afterwards, but she agreed to an application for information about her partner being made on her behalf. When the police arrived a few days later, she was shocked by what they told her. Her partner had a record of violent assaults on 20 other women.

In breach of the restraining order issued after the first assault, he broke into her home, seriously assaulting her again. He was sentenced to 10 weeks in prison for common assault and was released earlier this year. Naturally, she is terrified.

Holly Bramley met serial perpetrator Nicholas Metson in 2016 and they married in 2021. Holly had no idea about his previous convictions for offences against former partners in 2013, 2016 and 2017. Twenty-six year-old Holly decided to leave him and on 17 March last year he killed her, cutting her body up into 200 pieces and depositing it in a river.

Holly had a right to know about Metson’s serious and serial offending history.

Alexis Flavin was strangled by a serial domestic abuser, Jonathan Cole. He had just left prison for attacking his ex-partner when he met Alexis. He had 14 convictions for 16 offences—at least three against previous female partners. Alexis did not know this when she met him and she was not told when she reported him to the police. It was a whirlwind relationship and he proposed quickly. He attacked her one night, dragging her out of bed. She reported him to the police. Later he broke his bail conditions to see her and tell her that he would change. She discovered she was pregnant and dropped the charges. He abused her and tormented her throughout her pregnancy. He stopped her from breastfeeding because he was jealous. One night he was angry, smashed the baby's night light and strangled Alexis. She called the South Wales Police. He was arrested and convicted for strangulation. His lawyer asked for a suspended sentence. Alexis and the baby are lucky to be alive. His history should have been joined up and Alexis told of this when she first reported him for a serious assault. He is now out of prison and another woman is in fear for her life.

Marcus Osborne stalked and murdered Katie Higton and her new partner, Steve Harnett, on 15 May 2023. Osborne had 12 previous convictions for 27 offences. In 2011 he was jailed for 16 weeks for assaulting a girlfriend by grabbing her throat and punching her. In 2013 he was given a 54-month jail term for grievous bodily harm with intent in an assault on a woman he had been in relationship with for two weeks. The court heard that he punched her and kicked her in the head. Osborne then started a relationship with Katie Higton. When she ended their relationship, he stalked and threatened to kill her. She reported this to West Yorkshire Police and said she was in fear for her life. The police arrested Osborne and let him go on bail. He subsequently murdered her and her partner. Katie was stabbed 99 times in the frenzied assault while Steve received 24 knife wounds. Osborne was an extremely dangerous serial abuser and this was preventable. Why was his history not joined up? Why was he bailed? Why was he allowed to carry out further offences?

In 2001 the extraordinary Laura Richards began analysing domestic and other abusers. Her research revealed that there was no joining-up of the histories of violent men, and that they moved from victim to victim. Twenty years later we continue to see women living in fear, their lives blighted or ended. At least one victim commits suicide every four days and a woman is murdered every three days by a partner or a family member. Women are still not told about the histories of dangerous and violent men even when they report serious violence and abuse. Currently abusers can act with impunity, as demonstrated by the fact that only 1.1% of coercive controllers are convicted and 1.4% of stalkers. This must change. More perpetrators must be brought to justice, and those men who are known to have histories of serial and serious violence against women must not be allowed to move from victim to victim.

The system does not work. It is failing women and children. A condition of the release and licence of these perpetrators should be that they are included in MAPPA and subject to notification requirements so that this information can be shared and accessed nationally, thus saving lives and other lives from being lived in fear. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:30, 21 May 2024

My Lords, I am very happy to add my name to both these amendments, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for the many years that she has pursued this subject—seemingly to no avail but cumulatively, the more people hear about it, the more we might finally get something done. As I was listening to the powerful examples she was giving, I was mindful of the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Casey of Blackstock, which some noble Lords may have heard recently, where she repeated the litany of women, mainly, who have died at the hands of their male partners which Jess Phillips MP normally gives every year. The litany will go on and on until we have the moral courage to face up to this and to the fact that what we have currently is not working.

Why do we persist? I draw your attention to Hansard of 26 February of this year, which was our sixth day in Committee, and I will read directly from the words of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Roborough:

“The Government agree that robust management of perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking is crucial to help keep the public safe. We completely agree with the spirit of these amendments; however, we believe the objectives can already be met through current provision and policy”.—[Official Report, 26/2/24; col. 860.]

We then go to the Minister again, who gives us an example of how well the current system is working:

“The VAWG strategy confirms the Home Office will work with the police to ensure all police forces make proper use of stalking protection orders. Among other actions, in October 2021, the then-Safeguarding Minister Rachel Maclean MP wrote to all chief constables whose forces applied for fewer orders than might have been expected to encourage them to always consider applying for them. In February 2023, the former Safeguarding Minister, Sarah Dines MP, did the same”.—[Official Report, 26/2/24; col. 862.]

It goes on and on. The evidence is that the current system does not work.

In a meeting which the Minister kindly had with us to discuss some of the issues around stalking, we referred to the voluminous evidence put forward by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust in its super-complaint to the Government. This super-complaint will have a response from the Government, probably within the next two months, and in that meeting we exhorted the Government to look carefully at its evidence. Given the opportunity we have in this Bill to try and put it right now, rather than go through the charade of having the Government’s reaction to the super-complaint, more discussions about it, and then perhaps more discussions about what might be done, why do we not actually pull our finger out and do it now?

I entirely agree with the two amendments that the noble Baroness has put forward and I ask all noble Lords in the Chamber to consider very carefully supporting them when, as I think she will, she divides the House to see how we feel.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I also thank Laura Richards, Claire Waxman—the Victims’ Commissioner for London —and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for their consistently helpful briefings for us. I am very moved by the powerful examples that the noble Baroness gave us and I agree with everything that she and the noble Lord said.

I just want to reiterate the point that we as a group keep making, which is that the government arrangements often mean that stalkers are missed out. They are often mischarged with other crimes, such as harassment or malicious communication. It is common for the National Stalking Helpline to see high-risk stalking cases managed as low-level nuisance behaviours or even as isolated incidents, and as a result fewer perpetrators are convicted and even fewer sentenced to 12 months or less.

There are also some concerns. The Minister has told us that the Home Office domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention fund for last year was made available for PCCs to commission services covering all forms of stalking, including non-DA. However, there were a disproportionate number of funds apportioned to DA-specific stalking services or even DA services that do not address stalking at all, or claim to address stalking but without any stalking expertise. Some 65% of awards in this grant were solely for domestic abuse interventions, with no stalking provision. The problem is that whatever we say here is not ending up on the front line, so can the Minister tell us how the Government propose to manage a more comprehensive approach for stalking perpetrators?

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has provided plenty of evidence over the years, and indeed in its super-complaint, about how investing in perpetrator management saves money. It saves money because there is no constant repeat of crimes committed by these obsessed and manipulative stalkers, and it helps the state as well. On that basis, from these Benches we support the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, if she wishes to call a vote on these two amendments.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I shall be brief. My name is on this amendment, and indeed, I spoke to similar amendments in Committee. It was a great pleasure to do so, but I regarded myself, as I said at the time, as a substitute for my noble friend Lady Royall, who indeed has the most tireless record of championing this cause and taking every opportunity to remedy the problem. We are presented with an opportunity here. Guidance is not working. That is the problem. We have to put these modest amendments into the Bill because we know that guidance is not working. It is not good enough, and it means that it is a postcode lottery as to whether action is taken in the way that is necessary, and it makes a hit and miss system for whether or not women’s lives are saved. That is not good enough. It is time. We need to put both these amendments in the Bill. We owe it to the victims of stalking to ensure that the police everywhere will see stalking for what it is: often a stepping stone to something worse. It is time we did that.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, for her amendments relating to the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements —MAPPA. Before addressing the amendments, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for making the time to meet me and my officials on this matter.

The Government agree that robust management of perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking is crucial to help keep the public safe. We are in agreement with the spirit of these amendments. However, we believe that the objectives can already be met through current provision and policy and through separate legislation that we are taking forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, kindly commented, that remains our view.

I will address Amendment 132 first. Under existing legislation, individuals who are convicted of specified violent and sexual offences and are subject to notification requirements and/or sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more are automatically eligible for management under MAPPA. These offences include offences which are committed in the context of domestic abuse, such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, and attempted strangulation, as well as stalking, including fear of violence. The list of offences is kept under review and, in recognition of the seriousness of the offence, we are legislating in the Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that offenders convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more will automatically be managed under MAPPA. This will mean that many of the most serious domestic abuse offenders will be subject to stringent multi-agency management.

MAPPA in the 42 police force areas of England and Wales are delivered by independent strategic management boards. As well as representatives from the police, probation and prison services, SMBs will have representatives from other agencies, such as local authorities and health providers. To encourage consistency, SMBs must have due regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State pursuant to his permissive power under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, while also responding to local needs.

As we committed to do during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, we strengthened the Secretary of State's MAPPA guidance to include a chapter dedicated to domestic abuse and stalking. This mandates that all domestic abuse and stalking offenders who do not qualify for automatic MAPPA management must be considered for discretionary management, known as category 3. We have also worked with MAPPA agencies to improve practice, including the publication of additional guidance setting out the thresholds to be met for the various levels of MAPPA management to assist practitioners making these decisions, and, if we find that cases of domestic violence and stalking that need to be managed under MAPPA are still not being identified and referred for MAPPA management, to take further remedial action.

In response to the six harrowing cases that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned earlier, while we cannot comment on individual cases, I express my and the Government’s sincere condolences to all individuals and families who have been impacted by domestic abuse or stalking. The MAPPA framework is available only for convicted offenders. All individuals with convictions for domestic abuse and stalking behaviour, where not automatically eligible, must already be considered by the responsible authorities for management under MAPPA. The statutory guidance makes this clear. MAPPA is not available in cases where individuals do not have convictions, but there are other measures that are either already in place or are due to be piloted shortly that serve to protect a victim; for example, the statutory domestic violence disclosure scheme, often referred to as Clare’s law, which provides a mechanism for the police to disclose information about an individual’s past abusive or violent behaviour, or civil orders, such as stalking protection orders and, later this year, domestic abuse protection orders.

With regard to Amendment 133, also in the noble Baroness’s name, there are already provisions in place that allow information on perpetrators to be collected and used to manage risk. All individuals released on licence are subject to standard conditions for the duration of their sentence, which include the requirement for perpetrators to inform their probation officer of any change of name or contact details and to stay only at an address approved by their probation officer. There are numerous additional licence conditions which can be imposed to address specific risk factors. Breach of licence conditions can result in the individual being recalled to custody.

For individuals who are not subject to licensed supervision, noble Lords may be aware that the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 introduced provisions for domestic abuse protection orders. These orders, which will be piloted in the spring, will allow notification requirements to be imposed on perpetrators, of which breach will be a criminal offence. A domestic abuse protection order is a civil order and can be imposed without a conviction, providing an opportunity to protect a greater range of victims than the proposed amendment. Sadly, a large number of perpetrators will not have a conviction, and so domestic abuse protection orders allow us to target all perpetrators of domestic abuse, not just those who are convicted of an offence. Piloting will allow us to evaluate and test the effectiveness and impact of this new model ahead of an expected national rollout.

Similarly, we introduced stalking protection orders—SPOs—through the Stalking Protection Act 2019. These can impose any prohibition or requirements that the court considers necessary, as well as notification requirements. Breach of domestic abuse protection orders and stalking protection orders can result in up to five years’ imprisonment. These orders are in addition to the domestic violence disclosure scheme, Clare’s law, which is central to providing a mechanism for the police to share information on domestic abuse perpetrators with those who may be at risk from them. We have put the guidance for the scheme on a statutory footing to strengthen the operation of the scheme, and we think it is right that the police focus on delivering this important service.

In addition to this, in April this year, we announced a suite of measures to mark National Stalking Awareness Week. We updated our guidance to police officers on the burden of proof for stalking protection orders. This advises it to be lowered from criminal to civil to enable more SPOs to be granted at the earliest opportunity. The announcement also confirms that the commencement date has been set for the public sexual harassment offence: 1 October 2024. This will make public sexual harassment a specific offence.

The Government have engaged with the investigating bodies of the police super-complaint. We welcomed the theme of multi-agency working for this year’s National Stalking Awareness Week, which is why we also announced that the Home Office will work across criminal justice agencies to engage openly with the findings and recommendations when they are published in the summer. I hope this also answers the specific question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. For these reasons, we feel that the aims of these amendments are already met through existing provisions, and I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw Amendment 32.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour 6:45, 21 May 2024

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I have to say that I am not content. I have heard the word “guidance”, “guidance”, “guidance”, and that the current provision and policy will make everything work. They will not. I repeat: they will not. Why are so many women dying? The reason is that they do not work. Pilots, guidance and Clare’s law are simply not working; they are not enough. We should take the moral courage as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and vote in favour of this amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, it is not just about doing something that is right and protecting lives; investing in perpetrator management also saves money. What is not to like? I intend to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 211, Noes 208.

Division number 1 Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (4th Day) — Amendment 132

Aye: 209 Members of the House of Lords

No: 206 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 132 agreed.