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    Paul’s Story

    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    Paul’s Story

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    “I joined the police in the early 80’s, policing then was reminiscent of what many of you have seen on the television series Life on Mars. As a 19 year old probationer, I remember attending domestic abuse incidents with experienced colleagues only to return to the police station and make an entry in the Minor Occurrence Book ( if an incident was not classed as a crime, at that time a written entry was made in this book ) to the effect of ‘A domestic Incident, parties advised to see a solicitor’ This never seemed right for some of the incidents reported, but unfortunately this was often the norm.

    Early on in my career I remember a lady reporting that she had been raped by her husband. At that time marital rape was not an offence in the UK, until a landmark case in 1991 

    It was not until the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 that rape within a marriage was enforced as other rapes.

    As expected in my career in a Metropolitan area, I dealt with numerous domestic abuse incidents and I started to understand many of the barriers faced by women and men in reporting their abuse to the police, be it after years of abuse becoming dependant on their abuser (Stockholm syndrome), the fear of losing financial or home security, concerns around social services involvement, or indeed fear of what action the police would take?

    I always strove to do my best to protect the victim. I became a police domestic abuse officer, I would always weigh up the right route for the victim – if the criminal justice system was not appropriate, I would use the civil justice system.

    Thankfully over time, how the police deal with domestic abuse has progressed in the right direction.  Rather than saying ‘go and see a solicitor’ when dealing with domestic abuse, positive action is now taken to arrest the offender if there is evidence to do so. Police Public Protection Teams working closely with partner and support agencies, prioritise safeguarding the victim.

    One of the many incidents I remember was a young lady whose ex-partner had broken into her flat, held her hostage and raped her. The rape resulted in a pregnancy, bravely she decided to keep the baby.

    The abuser received a custodial sentence for his horrendous crime. When he was due for release from prison I visited the victim to remind her of the support and options available to her. She understandably but sadly wanted to remain in her flat, a tenement where the offences had occurred.

    One of my colleagues also a police domestic abuse officer, received a phone call from the lady’s mother, she was concerned that her daughter had not been in contact, they had been in daily contact since the baby was born.  We visited the flat, from the rear of the property so not to advertise our approach. We saw a pair of men’s trainers outside a first-floor window which I had previously requested the social landlord to secure as this was the point of entry for previous offences.

    Our requests to open the door were denied but with the smell of cooking coming from the other side we believed someone was behind the closed door. We started to make a forceable entry which resulted in the terrified victim opening the door. She verbally stated she was on her own and that she did not want us to enter the property, however her eyes kept rolling towards the lounge where we found her ex-partner hiding.

    He was duly arrested as he had again broken into the flat.

    The CID dealt with the incident. An experienced CID officer heading towards retirement came to me afterwards and remarked that he had dealt with many domestic incidents throughout his service and that sadly, sometimes, his attitude to domestic abuse cases had been different to that of other crime offences. Dealing with this offence and this young lady had reinforced for him the necessity to robustly police domestic abuse, I remember thinking how sad it was that it had taken him to near retirement to have this important realisation… thank heavens things have and continue to change for victims.

    The lady was re housed and her ex-partner returned to jail.

    Remember the police are there to help you as are other agencies.”

    Share Your Story

    In this series we are using the brave stories of domestic abuse survivors to bring hope to others currently facing abuse. Their stories are sadly not unique, the victims share them willingly to help others get the support they did.
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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”