Domestic assault victim calls for law change after ‘reliving the nightmare all over again’

Anne Swinburne (Chris Austin / DC Thomson)
Anne Swinburne (Chris Austin / DC Thomson)

THE wife of a police officer convicted of attacking her has revealed how she had to “relive the nightmare all over again” in a desperate bid to keep the domestic abuser away.

Former detective inspector Paul Swinburne’s assault on estranged wife Anne was described by Sheriff Marie Smart as the most “chilling” she had heard in 30 years on the bench.

But Sheriff Smart sent Anne’s world into freefall when she refused a plea for a banning order to keep Swinburne away from his estranged wife.

Anne used little-known laws to find out why and says she was left stunned when it emerged Sheriff Smart had simply accepted the convicted ex-cop’s word that he would stay away from her.

The 51-year-old then had to fight through the civil courts to get a interim interdict put in place, stopping him from coming within 100 metres of her because she still didn’t feel safe.

Anne has now spoken out in a bid to put pressure on ministers to make the banning orders – known as non-harassment orders (NHO) – automatic in domestic abuse cases.

She said: “For many people the horror that is domestic abuse does not end with sentencing. It is over in the eyes of the court but this is not the reality for thousands of women.

“By denying me this NHO, the sheriff has pitted me once again against someone convicted of domestic abuse.

“Bearing in mind she heard me give evidence, she said it was the most chilling thing she’d heard, I just couldn’t believe it.

“I still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I think there is still a threat, this is not over for me.”

During the trial in January this year, the court heard that Swinburne had been recorded on a mobile phone as he subjected his wife to an assault.

At their East Kilbride home, Swinburne pinned Anne against a couch and taunted her after seeing she was recording him, raging and swearing at her.

Anne also told the court how Swinburne, 56, had assaulted and bullied her over the course of their 25-year relationship.

The retired detective inspector, who denied the charges, was then convicted of assault after the recording was played in court. He was ordered to pay his wife £2000 in compensation.

Sheriff Smart said: “It is the worst recording I think I have ever heard in a court and it is chilling.”

Anne had written to Sheriff Smart in January, asking for a NHO, explaining: “I still fear his retribution. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t look over my shoulder.”

The request wasn’t granted and Anne found out through Victim Support Scotland that she was entitled to ask why it was turned down.

Anne held no grudge against Sheriff Smart, explaining: “This is not about the individual sheriff, it’s more about how the system is broken. It just feels so anti-victim. It was like reliving the nightmare all over again.

“It was just his word, it had no legal undertaking.”

After being denied an NHO, Anne went down the civil court route and was granted an interim interdict which prevents Swinburne from coming within 100 metres of her and excludes him from her East Kilbride home.

She continued: “I asked a solicitor how much it was going to be, he said about £2000 and I said what if I can’t afford this and he said to be honest, some women just wait until they’re assaulted again to get the bail conditions. I knew I couldn’t go through that again and I was haunted by thinking about the women who don’t have this choice, that they have to wait for another assault.”

The move required Anne to write an affidavit, going over her experiences again, a process she described as “horrific” before then seeing Swinburne’s response.

Latest figures show 938 NHOs were issued in 2015/16.

But this haul is dwarfed by the 34,000 charges of domestic abuse recorded last year.

Using freedom of information laws, Anne asked court chiefs for NHO figures for Hamilton Sheriff Court, where her case was heard.

They revealed that in the first seven months of this year, 644 domestic abuse cases were heard.

Of these, 502 resulted in convictions but only 33 NHOs were issued.

SNP ministers are looking to improve this situation in a new bill to create a specific offence of domestic abuse. This will include a mandatory requirement for the courts to consider imposing an NHO with every domestic abuse conviction.

But for Anne, who has started divorce proceedings, this does not go far enough.

She said: “I am going to keep up the pressure to get this law changed.

“It’s not just for me, this system has to change for other victims coming up behind me.

“NHO right now is a lottery. How many people have been re-attacked or hurt as a result?”

Last night, Swinburne responded: “The court did not grant a non-harassment order in the criminal proceedings because there was no evidence of harassment.

“Following the criminal proceedings having been concluded, Mrs Swinburne raised civil proceedings against me.

“She did not require to attend at court to give evidence as I consented to certain orders being granted in order to avoid increased legal costs. The orders granted did not include a non-harassment order.”

East Kilbride SNP MSP Linda Fabiani has written to the Scottish Government asking it to consider mandatory NHOs.

“Whatever changes are made, they must be robust, with the rights of the victim being the prime consideration,” she said.

“Too often victims feel that the courts don’t show enough understanding of their fear.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have sought views on making it mandatory for courts to consider whether a non-harassment order is appropriate for any person convicted of a domestic abuse offence, rather than having to rely on an application being made by the prosecutor.

“This is being considered for inclusion in the Domestic Abuse Bill.”

In my view: Susan Gallagher, acting chief executive of Victim Support

IT is our experience that many victims of domestic abuse still have to rely on the civil courts to protect them from their ex-partners after a conviction, prolonging their ordeal.

If a non-harassment order is not given at conviction, there are no restrictions on the perpetrator from contacting the victim, leaving them in a vulnerable and often dangerous position.

The psychological and financial challenges faced by many victims can affect their ability to pursue a legal order through the civil courts.

Victim Support Scotland (VSS) has welcomed new rights for victims and witnesses put in place through the Victims & Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, such as the right to obtain information as to the decision of a court in a trial and any reasons for it.

These rights are relatively new and, up to this point, we have seen challenges for victims in being able to exercise these, including a lack of awareness of the new provisions as they are fully implemented across our justice system.

Anne’s experience highlights the importance of the meaningful implementation of the legislation so that victims positively experience these rights in practice.

VSS has positively responded to the Scottish Government’s proposals to place a duty on the court to consider making a non-harassment order in every domestic abuse case, and to provide reasons for the decision made, in the hope of better protection for domestic abuse victims after a criminal trial.