Belfast Telegraph

Domestic abuse: Beaten for 30 years, but her husband walks free

By Deborah McAleese

A mother-of-two who was left for dead by her violent husband after 32 years of marriage has warned that Northern Ireland needs to revolutionise how it tackles domestic violence.

Irene Wilson was just three minutes from death when police and an ambulance crew found her lying unconscious in a pool of blood in her hallway following a vicious attack by her then husband, Scott Wilson.

The 56-year-old Londonderry woman was stunned when Wilson walked free from court with a suspended sentence.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Irene said she did not believe enough was being done to manage the problem of domestic violence in Northern Ireland.

"It is horrifying to think that there are so many other women out there who are silently living the life of hell that I lived for 32 years," said Irene.

She added: "Whenever there is a tragedy, like that poor woman Jean Quigley (who was two months pregnant with her boyfriend's baby when he brutally murdered her) all the politicians find their voice and vow to make changes. But then it all goes quiet again and very little is done."

Irene's call for action comes as the Belfast Telegraph concludes its End The Silence series to raise awareness of domestic abuse issues in Northern Ireland.

Throughout the week, having spoken to victims, top police officers, a senior District Judge, the charity Women's Aid, Probation Services and other community support workers, we have identified a number of major gaps in the system.

Some of the issues we have identified are:

The lack of a legal requirement here similar to Clare's Law in England and Wales, which lets people find out from police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

The need for specialised domestic violence courts across Northern Ireland to encourage more victims to take legal action.

The current inability to apply prevention orders to violent offenders, which would allow police to prohibit an abuser from engaging in activities such as drinking alcohol. Sex offenders can currently be subject to these orders, but violent offenders cannot.

The lack of a law banning the exercise of 'coercive control' over a partner. Such a law would allow police to prosecute cases of psychological and emotional abuse.

the need for new ways to prosecute abusers who use fear, intimidation or coercive control to persuade partners not to give evidence against them.

Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said she had made representations at Stormont and with the PSNI for more action to tackle domestic violence.

"I welcome how the Belfast Telegraph has highlighted the issue of domestic abuse and the gaps there are in the system," the SDLP MLA said. "I have been raising a lot of these issues and will continue to do so.

"It's time for the Executive and the criminal justice system to step up to the mark and show that they are serious about ending sexual and domestic violence. A statement of intent would include effective legislation and a budget that does not discriminate against those who are vulnerable in their own homes."

Justice Minister David Ford said that work was currently under way at the Justice Department and Department of Health to draw up a revised domestic and sexual violence strategy.

"We realise the problem there is and the work that needs to be done," he said. "In terms of legislation, if the work being done on the domestic and sexual violence strategy identifies proposals for legislation then clearly I will have a look at that along with the Health Minister Jim Wells."

Mr Ford also said he believed there were virtues in having the kind of specialism that a special listings court for domestic violence provides.

"I would like to get that level of expertise developed," he added.

If you are a man or woman affected by domestic and sexual violence, support is available by contacting the 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline on 0808 802 1414.

Factfile: Message on a beer glass

Pint glasses with an image of a hand around a woman's throat have been distributed in bars across Londonderry as part of a domestic violence awareness campaign. The Handle With Care This Christmas campaign has been launched by the Divert Project and the Woman's Advocacy Project. Woman's Advocacy Project worker Gina Watterson said: "We are expecting domestic abuse incidents to increase significantly over Christmas. This is why our campaign is so vital."

Five things that need to happen now

1. We need to introduce a domestic violence disclosure scheme, similar to Clare's Law in England and Wales, which lets people find out from police if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

2. We need to roll out specialised domestic violence courts across Northern Ireland to try and encourage more victims to pursue their cases into the courtroom.

3. We need to extend prevention orders to violent offenders, allowing police to prohibit a domestic abuser from engaging in certain activities, such as drinking alcohol, in a bid to protect others from harm. Such orders are currently available for sex offenders, but not violent offenders.

4. We need to introduce a new law making it illegal for someone to exercise 'coercive control' over their partner, allowing the police to prosecute those who are guilty of psychological and emotional abuse.

5. We need to adopt new approaches to pursue prosecutions in cases where the victim will not give evidence because of fear, intimidation or coercive control.

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