Every year, women in the UK are killed by stalkers and domestic abusers – despite previously reporting them to the police. Unfollow Me is a Broadly campaign highlighting the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse in support of anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register in the UK. Follow all of their coverage here. This article originally appeared on Broadly.
Police in Scotland are failing to protect women from violent and abusive partners and ex-partners, according to exclusive data revealed under British Freedom of Information laws by Broadly. Our investigation reveals that six women were killed by a partner or ex-partner in Scotland in the last three years despite previously reporting them to police for threatening behaviour.
The data builds on an ongoing investigation into the number of women killed by partners, ex-partners, or stalkers across the UK. Previous data uncovered by Broadly revealed that 49 women were killed in the last three years despite previously reporting their killers to police. With the addition of the Scottish figures, this total now comes up to 55 women.
Broadly asked Police Scotland how many women had reported an abusive partner, ex-partner, or stalker for such behaviour and went on to be killed by that individual. The police force was able to supply us with information regarding six domestic homicides in which the woman killed had previously contacted police about the perpetrator. As per Police Scotland’s definition of domestic abuse, all the cases involved suspected physical, verbal, sexual, or financial abuse that took place in the context of a relationship between partners or ex-partners.
The new figures reveal the extent to which Scottish domestic abuse victims are being failed by the very authorities that are supposed to protect them. Between 2015 and 2016, three women were killed after reporting their partner or ex-partner’s behaviour to Scottish Police. One woman was killed in this way in between 2016 and 2017, and two more died in a one-year period between 2017 and 2018.
Watch: Unfollow Me: The Story of Meera Dalal
“It's extremely concerning that six women contacted police for protection and reported threatening behaviour to Police Scotland before they were killed by their (ex) partner," Laura Richards of anti-stalking charity Paladin told Broadly. "Often times threats to kill made by stalkers are not taken seriously. We know through research that one in two of domestic stalkers, when they make a threat, will act on it and that many perpetrators are serial. Training to identify and manage risk is vital and serial stalkers and domestic abusers should be included on the same register as sex offenders. This will save lives and money."
Police Scotland did not disclose the identities of the women killed, but one case that matches their parameters is the murder of Moira Gilbertson, a 56-year-old woman from Edinburgh. Gilbertson was stabbed to death by her partner Roger Crossan, 53, in October 2017. Crossan had previously served an eight-year sentence for killing a previous partner in 1998. He was convicted of assaulting Gilbertson in 2011 but walked free with a supervision order. “[Gilberton’s] life was stolen by an abusive man with a long history of inflicting fear, harm and injury on women,” Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid told the Sunday Post. “Moira was let down by a system that did not protect her.”
Bethany Haines from Perth, Scotland, can testify to the failures of the authorities when it comes to prosecuting domestic abuse and stalking. In her late teens, Haines was in a coercive and abusive relationship. Her then-boyfriend Andrew Murray monitored her phone and social media accounts, forcing her to unfriend about 50 male contacts on Facebook. When their relationship ended, he stalked Haines for six months and even ripped up a scrapbook dedicated to her late father David, an aid worker who was murdered in Syria by ISIS in 2014.
In October of 2017, Murray was sentenced to 21 months in jail and given a five-year non-harassment order preventing him from contacting her. But his sentence was overturned on appeal earlier this year after a judge deemed it excessive, ordering him to perform 200 hours of unpaid community work instead. “I ended up walking out of the courtroom before the end of the hearing because I couldn't listen to it,” Haines tells me. “I was completely distraught.”
Haines feared that Murray would eventually kill her, and says that she could have easily ended up as one of the six domestic homicides cited by Police Scotland in our data. During their relationship, she even used an emergency code to text her mother when the abuse was especially bad. “I’d wake up one morning not knowing if it was going to be a good day, or if I was going to be battered. Even to this day it’s scary. Because I don’t know if he’s around the corner, or 20 miles away.”
Police Scotland said in a statement that it was committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse. "Tackling and preventing domestic abuse is a priority for Police Scotland and, working with partner agencies, we are committed to providing protection and support for victims and their families," said Detective Superintendent Gordon McCreadie. “We have a clear risk assessment and escalation process following all reports of domestic abuse and stalking and harassment. We are proactively working to reduce the number of domestic incidents including domestic homicides. This includes reviewing incidents and working with partners to design and implement a multi-agency Domestic Homicide Review process to further inform our commitment to keeping the people of Scotland safe from risk of harm.”
Haines is still frightened for her safety now that Murray’s sentence has been quashed. “I get up in the middle of the night to check if the door is locked,” she says. “I worry about walking to college. It’s always in the back of your mind that something else could happen.”