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Abuse reports double since murder of Concepta Leonard in Fermanagh home

By Victoria Leonard

The number of women seeking help for domestic violence in the Fermanagh area has doubled since the horrific murder of Concepta Leonard, campaigners have said.

The 51-year-old - known as Connie - was found dead in her home in Maguiresbridge on Monday. She is believed to have been stabbed by her former partner Peadar Phair, who then killed himself. Kerrie Flood, from Fermanagh Women's Aid, revealed the number of women seeking help for domestic violence in the Fermanagh area has surged in recent days.

Read More: Grieving brother says Conor 'will feel scars of tragedy for life'

She said that Ms Leonard's legacy will live on in "conversations happening in organisations, businesses, youth clubs and schools, which otherwise would not have taken place".

The mother-of-one's funeral is due to take place today at St Mary's Church in Brookeborough.

Her 30-year-old son Conor, who has Down's Syndrome and suffered stab wounds to his stomach while attempting to defend his mother, is expected to be among the mourners.

The tragedy has turned the spotlight back on domestic violence.

Ms Leonard had been due in court the day after she was murdered to seek a new non-molestation order against Phair as a previous restraining order granted to her on March 21 was about to expire.

According to PSNI figures, there were 492 breaches of non-molestation orders across Northern Ireland in the 12 months to March.

Ms Flood said the shockwaves from Ms Leonard's death had reverberated throughout the community.

"Her death has been the talk of our Women's Aid centre for the past few days; our staff and volunteers are devastated," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"A lot of women are saying, 'That could have been me'. We know the levels of domestic violence in Northern Ireland and Fermanagh, and murder is sometimes the end result. Last year, just shy of 500 women accessed the service at Fermanagh Women's Aid - that's in only one year and in only one rural area.

"Concepta's murder occurred the day before the renewal of her non-molestation order. One of the most dangerous times is when a woman decides to end a relationship or they take significant steps to increase their safety.

"The state gets involved and if the offender breaches that they will be arrested - it's a loss of control in terms of the abusive partner."

Non-molestation orders are civil court orders which aim to protect the victims of domestic violence from being abused, to stop the abuser from being violent towards the victims.

It is a type of injunction made under The Family Law Act 1996 to protect named individuals from abuse.

Ms Flood added: "Non-molestation orders are very valuable - it means that the abusive partner can be arrested and removed.

"We don't want women to stop accessing court orders or thinking it doesn't protect them, as they are very valuable safety measures.

"Concepta had taken steps to keep herself safe - she took out the order, she informed people, she gathered people around her. She did everything to protect herself and her son.

"This is all the fault of the man who killed her."

Ms Flood said that representatives from Fermanagh Women's Aid will attend Connie's funeral this morning in order to pay tribute.

"Connie's death has made people realise that domestic violence can happen, it's not something abstract that you read about far away, and in a worst-case scenario murder can happen," she added.

"We have seen an influx in referrals as a result of Connie's death in women seeking support, and it's sad it takes this to make it happen. We want these conversations to take place on a daily basis.

"We can't imagine how Conor is coping and we hope he has lots of arms around him supporting him, he will live with this experience forever.

"We at Fermanagh Women's Aid want to say to Conor and to Connie's family: 'We're with you in spirit, and Concepta's name will not be forgotten at Fermanagh Women's Aid'."

While the number of breaches of non-molestation orders recorded by the PSNI have fallen by 104 this year, Ms Flood believes that this is due to changes which raise the qualifying threshold for legal aid rather than a reduction in real terms.

"Women could end up paying £500 to secure a non-molestation order with legal fees," she said.

"So the number of women attaining non-molestation orders has fallen."

Ms Flood said that the collapse of Stormont has slowed the introduction of legislation which could save lives.

"I have heard in media reports that Peadar Phair had previously been convicted of domestic abuse, and we are calling for the introduction of a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme," she added.

"This would enable a woman to see whether her partner had committed domestic violence against anyone else. This means that she can make an informed decision, and we would take a multi-agency approach.

"The more eyes and support on a domestic violence situation the better. Women could be safer.

"We are also calling for coercive control legislation to be put in place, which would encompass behaviour which doesn't currently meet the threshold for legal action.

"This is already in place in the rest of the UK, but we are always the poor relation.

"Former Justice Minister Claire Sugden was wonderfully supportive and had a willingness to legislate, but the collapse of the Assembly has put a stop to that and is affecting the most vulnerable.

"Women's Aid centres are experiencing a 5% budget reduction across Northern Ireland, which is affecting front line services.

"We need Stormont to get back up and running again to dedicate more resources to tackling domestic violence."

Women's Aid's 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline can be contacted on 08 0880 21414

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