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Ham & High: New domestic violence law comes too late for Hampstead mother who inspired it

Ham & High 15 January 2015

A new domestic violence law forcing police to investigate patterns of controlling behaviour looks set to be enacted by the end of the month - thanks in part to the campaigning efforts of a Hampstead mother.

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Shireen Jamil has won praise for courageously speaking out about her own harrowing story of abuse, which has helped to bring about the proposed legislation.

A new offence of coercive control is expected to hit the statute books as an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill within weeks, following its second reading in the House of Commons on January 5.

It will force police to investigate controlling behaviour over many years instead of incidents of domestic abuse in isolation.

It is unlikely to lead to a criminal prosecution in Shireen’s own case, which centres around historic abuse, as it is incredibly rare for new legislation to apply retrospectively - something which has left her devastated.

But the 58-year-old mother, who lives in sheltered accommodation in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, has fought her own determined campaign - backed by the Ham&High - to ensure other women can seek justice more easily than herself.

She said: “It’s heart-breaking not to be believed. Look at the statistics and how many women are committing suicide because of domestic violence. A huge part of that is because you’re not believed by the authorities. It’s hugely important that the police will look at the pattern of abuse.

“But I also feel that there is so much left to be done. When you finally do have the courage to come forward to police you are brushed off. The killing will continue until victims are believed.

“In 90 per cent of cases no one is charged and after that victims are gagged. Abusers are still coercively controlling them. I know that I am still being coercively controlled all these years later.”

Criminal justice expert Harry Fletcher worked on the new legislation with Welsh MP Elfyn Llwyd and used Shireen’s testimony to argue for a change in the law.

He said: “It’s been a remarkable success story. Coercive control with no time limits will become law by the end of the month.

“The police will now take into account the totality of the abusive behaviour not just the most recent events.

“I would congratulate those victims like Shireen who have had the courage to come forward and tell their stories, and that has undoubtedly contributed to the amazing success of the campaign.”

MP Mr Llwyd submitted suggested amendments to the Serious Crime Bill last week, following its second reading in the Commons, and the government followed with its own proposed amendments.

His team has written to minister for modern slavery and organised crime, Karen Bradley MP, to inform her of their intention to raise questions about the proposed legislation at committee hearing stage next week.

They will ask whether the law will be retrospective and whether there will be a time limit on prosecutions.

The bill will then return for a vote in the Commons before receiving Royal Assent.

Introducing the bill to Parliament, home secretary Theresa May said: “With over 1 million calls for assistance to the police each year for domestic abuse-related incidents, but only 78,000 prosecutions, it is clear that the criminal justice response to domestic abuse is woefully inadequate.

“The new offence will provide an additional charging option where there is a pattern of non-violent controlling conduct, the cumulative impact of which can be no less traumatic for the victim.”

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