A DAUGHTER'S MURDER
In April 2007, lonely and looking for love, 36-year-old Clare Wood met 40-year-old George Appleton online. Clare was a mum to a 10-year-old girl, living in Salford, Greater Manchester whilst George was from the Traveller community and had worked in fairgrounds but the pair clicked immediately. It seemed to be the perfect relationship but neither her father, Michael Brown, nor her brother warmed to him. Michael was later to say, "There are very few people I've met in my time that I've taken an instant dislike to. He was one of them."
Clare's mother had died from cancer in the late 1990s and this giddy new romance put a strain on Clare's relationship with her father who now lived in Batley, West Yorkshire. Clare had told her father that she knew Appleton had a criminal record, but it was only for motoring offences.
Despite his huge reservations, Michael could see his daughter was in love and tried his best to be supportive, even when there was talk of marriage. He couldn't help but feel relieved though when Clare told him she'd ended her relationship with Appleton in October 2008. Michael and Clare spent Christmas together that year and she confided in her father that Appleton was being a pest and wouldn't accept that the relationship was over. Michael asked her to move back to Batley but Clare didn't want to uproot her young daughter and assured him she could handle the situation.
Then, in February 2009, when Clare couldn't be reached, a worried Michael asked her ex-husband to check in at her house. There, to his horror, he discovered Clare's battered and burnt body. She had been strangled and set on fire.
A FATHER'S CAMPAIGN
A national manhunt began for George Appleton and, six days later, he was found hanged in a derelict pub. He had taken his own life. It emerged that it wasn't just motoring offences on Appleton's record. He had an appalling history of violence against women with several convictions for harassment and assaults including the kidnapping at knifepoint of one of his ex-girlfriends.
Michael discovered Clare had made several complaints to Greater Manchester Police about Appleton after the relationship had ended, alleging he had caused criminal damage, harassed her, threatened to kill her and tried to rape her. What he couldn't understand - and what made Clare's death so much harder to bear - was why there was no system in place that could have helped her. Why wasn't she informed about Appleton's past? As he later said: "To know that my daughter had been put in harm's way beggared belief... had I known about his criminal record, I would have marched my daughter back to Batley myself."
An infuriated Michael began a mission to let the public know how badly people had been let down and ensure that something would finally be done about it. Joined by Michelle Livesey, chief reporter at Radio Key 103 in Manchester, Michael worked tirelessly to keep the issue in the spotlight for four years, gathering evidence, running petitions and winning support from charities, politicians and the media.
In 2011, Michael provided moving testimony at the inquest into Clare's death and Coroner Jennifer Leeming later concluded that women in abusive relationships should have the right to know about a partner's violent past. Finally, after four years of lobbying, the campaign had gathered enough momentum and Home Secretary Theresa May took Clare's Law to public consultation and then launched it as a 14-month pilot scheme in four police force areas.
THE LAW AND ITS LEGACY
On 8th March 2014 - International Women's Day - Clare's Law was officially rolled out across England and Wales. Formally known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, it allows the police to disclose information about a partner's previous history of domestic violence or violent acts, following a formal application.
An astonishing 1,335 disclosures were made in the first ten months, which means five women a day were finding out if their partners had a violent past. In October 2015, Clare's Law came into effect in Scotland as well. By October 2017, 927 people in Scotland had been warned about their partner's previous history of abusive behaviour. Justice Secretary Michael Matheson praised the scheme's success "in helping safeguard those who have been suffering from, or at risk of domestic abuse".
For Michael Brown, it had been a bittersweet victory - the establishment of a law that should have been there all along to help his daughter when she needed it the most. "I was chuffed but I'd give anything never to have been in this position," he said after the law was finally passed. "If it helps even one woman, though, my efforts will have been worthwhile."
Find out more about Clare Wood and Michael Brown's campaign in Episode 3 of Swipe Right For Murder.