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17 May 2006 : Column 1100

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am not quite clear how the hon. Gentleman’s remarks relate to the content of the Bill. Perhaps he could make that clear.

Mr. Robinson: The Bill covers a number of miscellaneous matters relating to the government of Northern Ireland and matters that will, in due course, be able to be devolved to the Government there. Unfortunately, that Government is less likely to be formed because of the situation that has developed in the Assembly. However, I want to give Front-Benchers some time to wind up the debate.

I will round off my remarks by saying that this issue must be addressed, because the conditions remain the same, whether we are talking about paramilitarism from a Unionist background or a nationalist background. We are not prepared to be in government with those who are linked to paramilitary organisations. It would be ironic if, in the months or years ahead, Sinn Fein and the republican movement were to be given a clean bill of health and the Government could proceed, only for the Ulster Unionist party to delay that process because of a relationship with a paramilitary organisation. Those issues have to be dealt with; they cannot be ducked.

This relationship has certainly not been formed for the altruistic purpose that the hon. Lady was told by the leader of her party, who was no doubt squirming when he said that the purpose was to try to take the UVF away from its paramilitary activities. The purpose was self-serving: it was to try to increase the number of Ministries that the Ulster Unionist party would get. That has not worked, and it will not work. Indeed, my party would have ensured that Sinn Fein would not have got a third Ministry. There were at least four strategies to ensure that that would not happen. The Ulster Unionist party was not robbing Sinn Fein of a Ministry. It thought that it was robbing the DUP, but it will find out that it has not.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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Draft Legal Services Bill (Joint Committee)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Object.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand that the hon. Gentleman has to make a speech.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this speech required on my objection to motion 3 on the Order Paper?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should indicate briefly why he wishes to object.

6.58 pm

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Thank you for your helpful guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This is a procedural motion of far-reaching constitutional importance that should be considered in much greater detail, rather than being put through on the nod in this way. We should have a full debate on the merits and demerits of the issue, and it is for that reason that I wish to object.

Question put:—

The House proceeded to a Division; but no Member being willing to act as Teller, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Ayes had it.

Question agreed to.

17 May 2006 : Column 1103

Rana Faruqui

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

7.2 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am grateful to the Speaker for giving me this opportunity to raise the case of a daughter of a constituent. I want to speak about the brutal murder of Rana Faruqui, the handling of that case by Thames Valley police and the wider issues raised by it.

In 2003, Rana Faruqui was a bright, attractive, lively 35-year-old working in IT as a business analyst. At work, she met Stephen Griffiths. A relationship started. Stephen Griffiths moved into her home. Several incidents of domestic violence followed, the relationship faltered, and Stephen Griffiths left her home. After he left her home, several incidents of him stalking Rana Faruqui took place. On 21 July, Rana Faruqui reported by telephone to Thames Valley police that the brake pipes on her car had been cut. Three days later, on 24 July 2003, she went physically to Slough police station and spoke to the police about the fact that those brake pipes had been cut. That report passed from inbox to inbox, and from officer to officer, for 10 whole days. On Saturday 2 August 2003, Stephen Griffiths stabbed and brutally murdered Rana Faruqui.

I have absolutely no doubt that Thames Valley police failed Rana. They should have taken the issue of the cutting of the brake pipes more seriously. Sadly, Rana’s family, having had to face the tragedy of her brutal murder, are left with the feeling that had Thames Valley police acted differently, she might be alive today.

I am very conscious that there has been a full investigation of the case by Thames Valley police, and that a misconduct hearing in relation to one senior officer is still due to take place. Despite parliamentary privilege I do not intend to name any individual officers, but I hope the Minister will agree that the bare facts that I have outlined raise a degree of concern about the handling of the issue by Thames Valley police. They raise wider issues as well, however, and it is on those that I wish to concentrate.

When Rana Faruqui’s mother Carol came to see me with other members of her family, she was obviously distressed at what had happened to her daughter and at the suffering that the family had experienced following Rana’s death, but she was also anxious to ensure that other families were not put through the same distress. She wanted to try to ensure that issues of domestic violence, and particularly of stalking, were taken more seriously by Thames Valley police, and that any lessons from the case were learnt not only by them but by police forces across the country.

I am grateful to the acting chief constable of Thames Valley police, Sara Thornton, for giving me information about what the force has done following the case. She has not only written to me, but taken the time and trouble to speak to me about it. As a result of my conversation with her, I hope to be able to visit one of the domestic violence units in the Thames Valley area. However, as I have said, I have absolutely no doubt that Rana was failed by Thames Valley police.
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That raises a number of issues about the approach that the force takes to domestic violence, and the attitude of officers to such violence.

In 2004-05, there were 14,793 cases of domestic violence in the Thames Valley area. That is an increase of about 15 per cent. on the number of cases in 2003-04. I am aware that since then the Government have introduced a Bill to deal with domestic violence, and that more recently the Home Office has issued guidance to police forces on the handling of domestic violence cases. The acting chief constable tells me that Thames Valley police has adopted a rather more rigorous approach of risk assessment

which are now

Investigation management is subject to strict timetables.

That is what is happening now, of course; it was not in operation when Rana Faruqui reported those incidents to the police.

It is important to stress that, by all accounts, Rana was not a shrinking violet who did not know what to do, and did not take action when the incidents happened. She did report them to the police. We all know that many cases of domestic violence are not reported to the police, but she did report those incidents, and the stalking incidents. I think she rightly expected appropriate action to be taken, but sadly it was not.

Despite the action that has now been taken by Thames Valley police, the case raises several issues. The first is the general attitude of the police to such cases. I want to separate the issues of domestic violence and stalking. As I have said, the Government have taken action on domestic violence issues through their Bill and the guidance that they have now issued to police forces, but I am not convinced that as much emphasis has been placed on the stalking issue, which I believe should be taken very seriously. I suspect and fear that a number of such incidents are not taken as seriously as they should be. In some cases, the police’s attitude may well be, “It’s just somebody who has broken up with her boyfriend, does not want him around and has rung the police to try to get rid of him”, but in many others, that is not what is happening.

There are individuals out there like Stephen Griffiths. It subsequently emerged that although he could at times be very charming, he was also very manipulative and had had a number of broken relationships before he met Rana—relationships in which domestic violence incidents had occurred. So a pattern was being repeated but sadly, there was no evidence: no reporting of that pattern on which Thames Valley police could draw in assessing that case.

I have some questions for the Minister concerning the seriousness with which stalking is being addressed. Have the Government issued any guidance on dealing with stalking? What is the attitude taken by junior officers, in particular, when they first encounter such incidents? When a junior officer first deals with a
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reported stalking incident, it is crucial that they take it seriously. As I said earlier, Thames Valley police told me about the various steps that they have taken in dealing with domestic violence, such as risk assessment and the use of specialist domestic violence officers, but they kick in only if the initial report is taken seriously and treated seriously.

That leads me to the very real issue of the training our police officers, their understanding of such incidents and their recognition—or not—of their seriousness. I realise that the 14,793 domestic violence incidents that Thames Valley police had to deal with in 2004-05 is a large number. But in each case where it was shown that such violence had indeed taken place, there was a victim and someone who had acted in a criminal way against them. The police must take a serious approach to such cases.

I want to ask the Minister about the training of police officers in dealing with stalking. Stalking hits the headlines when it happens to a celebrity and such cases have been reported to the police, but it does not happen just to celebrities. Rana Faruqui was not a celebrity, but she was stalked by Stephen Griffiths, with tragic consequences. What are the police doing to ensure that sufficient training is given to officers, so that they understand the seriousness of such offences and behaviour, and that they recognise it and report it appropriately? They need to ensure that the action that has so far been taken can kick in, that proper risk assessment takes place, and that officers put the emphasis on early intervention, in order to ensure that the tragic consequences of Rana’s case are not repeated.

I want also to ask about guidance from the Home Office itself and from the Association of Chief Police Officers. I hope that the lessons that the Thames Valley police have learned following this incident will be shared with other forces throughout the country. One problem that we have is that police forces often do not share information with each other in an effort to deal with such issues. There is no lack of good intent in that regard: it just happens; there is no culture of sharing information. I have always been of the view that, if someone finds a good way of dealing with a problem, they should share it, because doing so is to the benefit of everybody. There are lessons to be learned, and they should be shared with other forces.

Is the Home Office doing enough to deal with stalking? Is it introducing guidance and proper measures at police force level? As I said earlier, Rana’s mother and the rest of her family are very keen that others should not have to go through the suffering that they have gone through, purely because no lessons are learned and no action is taken by Thames Valley or other forces. They have not just sat around or even just talked to me about it. Rana’s sister went over to the US to investigate the action taken there, and she sent me an interesting set of papers about San Diego county, which has established a stalking strike force, a multi-disciplinary approach to the issue. An article by Wayne Maxey, a criminal investigator affiliated with the stalking unit of the San Diego’s district attorney’s office, describes it as

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The Americans find that approach most effective. The article continues:

I have here copies of security recommendations for stalking victims and the stalking strike force victim handbook—the information that is given to victims of stalking on what they can do to help to ensure their safety. The evidence from the strike force suggests the need for early intervention, to identify where there is a serious risk and to take appropriate action.

I am happy to share the information with the Minister. I would also be happy to meet him and share further details of the case that I am not able to share with him in the time available tonight. Rana Faruqui was brutally murdered, despite the fact that she had reported the incidents of stalking and—crucially, in my view—the cutting of the brake cables of her car to the police. Thames Valley did nothing about that report for 10 days, at the end of which she was dead. Thames Valley police failed Rana, and I want to ensure that nobody else is failed in that way, by Thames Valley or other forces; that the lessons from this case are learned by others; and that the police take cases of domestic violence and, crucially, stalking seriously. Such cases must not be dismissed as women reporting things that have not taken place or trying to get rid of a boyfriend who is being a bit difficult. When someone goes to the police, they must be treated properly and seriously. The police must recognise the danger that can ensue and take action accordingly. We owe it to Rana and her family to ensure that the lessons are learned.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I must briefly interrupt the debate. I have to report an error in the number reported as having voted in the No Lobby in the deferred Division on the Joint Committee on Conventions. The number voting No was 20, not 19 as reported. The Clerk will arrange for the record to be corrected.

7.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) on securing this important debate, raising the issue of domestic violence and bringing such an appalling crime to the attention of the House. I also congratulate her on the tone of her speech, which was very moving in parts.

I know that the right hon. Lady has specific concerns about the police handling of domestic homicides, and about Thames Valley police force in particular. I am aware of the tragic circumstances of the death of Rana Faruqui, in August 2003. After suffering months of stalking and harassment from her ex-partner, including the brake pipes on her car being cut, she was fatally stabbed by him, while tending to her horses at her stables. I offer my sympathy to all who knew Miss Faruqui.

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