Provision that may be made by notices

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 10th June 2020.

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Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:45 am, 10th June 2020

We got here quickly—we are a bit quicker today, aren’t we? I realise that is my responsibility, so maybe we will not be quick anymore. The amendments would expand the DAPO to cover the workplace. In 2016, four women were murdered in their workplaces by men.

In one high-profile case, Andrew Burke cut the throat of his ex-partner’s new girlfriend, Cassie Hayes, at the Southport branch of Tui. The 28-year-old was killed by her lover’s ex-partner at her agency branch in what the judge called a

“cold-blooded execution in public”.

Burke slit Cassie’s throat at the travel shop in front of horrified customers, including families with young children. A court heard how events turned toxic in the lead-up to the murder, after the killer realised that Cassie had begun a relationship with his ex. In 2017, Burke admitted to sending malicious communications and was fined and warned to keep away from Cassie after threatening to kill her. It is particularly poignant for any of us here who have had the exact same thing happen. The perpetrator was already awaiting sentencing for harassing the mother of his child, and was being investigated for further harassing Cassie.

Rachel Williams, about whom I spoke yesterday in the context of the suicide of her son Jack, suffered much of her abuse in the workplace. Rachel’s employer recounted to a newspaper the behaviour of the perpetrator—Rachel’s husband, Darren Williams—in the workplace:

“First, her employer recalled, Williams banned Rachel from working with male colleagues and cutting the hair of any man—or even lesbian women.

When they employed a young man, the entire salon had to enact the charade that he was gay.

Rachel’s boss recalled: ‘Darren’s demeanour was intimidating and we were all afraid of him “kicking off.” He would make surprise visits to the salon and check our appointment book to try to catch her cutting men’s hair.’

‘I remember one particular day when Rachel was the only stylist available to cut a gent’s hair and I had to order all my trainees to circle around her and the client to block any view from the street while she cut his hair. The fear of her getting caught was tangible and the whole salon was on pins.’”

Some 47.3% of respondents to a TUC survey said that their partner physically turned up at their workplace, while 43.6% said that their partner stalked them outside their workplace. Three quarters of women who experience domestic violence will also be targeted at work. Clearly there is a problem with the protection of victims in their places of work. I feel as though the Government were prepared for this speech, because I am very pleased to hear of a review—we all know how much I love a review—into what is needed in workplaces, although I think the issue still stands with regard to the DAPO.

I have seen time and again, working both in domestic abuse services and, I am afraid to say, as an employer, how women can be targeted. Although it did not always mean that the perpetrator would turn up, women would be threatened with the idea that the perpetrator would come and make a scene at their workplace. Imagine being in an abusive relationship—even someone in our job or someone who works for us—and to be kept being told, “I will come and make a scene at your work.” We would do almost anything. It is one of the worst controls that I can imagine—I say that as someone who is so driven by my work—someone turning up at work to humiliate me, causing a scene. I remember one case of a victim whose perpetrator rang her workplace switchboard hundreds of times a day, but she was disciplined for it.

I also recall the case of a teaching assistant who called the police many times about the abuse she suffered at home, including violence and sexual abuse. As in many cases, unfortunately, no convictions were ever secured, for one reason or another. However, were this case to occur now, after this Bill, with which we are all trying to improve the situation, I can very much foresee that we might have got a DAPO—whether through the family courts, the police, the victim or, potentially, a third party, because in that case the woman had an older teenage daughter who was fiercely fighting for her mother.

One day at work, that victim was told that her perpetrator would be coming as a visiting dignitary to the school where she worked. The school had no idea of the connection or the abuse but, when she expressed concerns, she was asked to take the day off. The tentacles of control are hard for us to beat. When we look at domestic abuse, we see that it is about power and control. In that case, someone who wishes to exert power and control is being given the option—which they always are—of using another model of power and control, which is the hierarchies we have at work, such as fear of the boss, worry about what colleagues will think, or that they will say, “Gosh, she is always causing trouble”, or, “She’s whinging again.” It happens, because that is human nature—these things happen—but the two power structures together are a dangerous and heady combination.

In that case, the perpetrator knew that he had the power to go to his ex-partner’s place of work, and that her position as a teaching assistant in that power structure meant that he trumped her even in her workplace. The thought of him delighting in the fact that she would have to take action because of him going about his business makes my blood boil. Perpetrators will use every power option they have, so there is no reason to think that they would not do that in a place of work.

We do not have anywhere near robust enough policies and procedures to deal with workplace domestic abuse, and it is barely seen as a side issue by most. Some really notable examples of good employers, such as Lloyds bank, Vodafone and the Welsh Government, have all sought to take the issue and to go above and beyond with it. They offer paid leave, instances of support and proper policies, for example on what to do if there is a perpetrator and a victim at the workplace.