Courts `Too Lenient to Wife-Beaters' DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Women's Groups Want Tougher Sentences and Say These Could Save Lives

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JENNIFER Povey attended casualty more than 20 times before she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs - killed at the hands of her violent lover.

Partner Simon Hurley pleaded guilty to her manslaughter and was jailed for three and a half years.

Rewind 11 years. Mother-of-two Caroline Griffin was abused by her husband for eight years before he stabbed her to death with a knife.

Craig Russell-Jones pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was jailed for four years. He served less than three. These tragic cases involving two women from Bridgend and Abergavenny epitomise the scourge of domestic violence plaguing Wales today.

A man who slapped his partner's face in front of her four-year-old child received a conditional discharge from Cardiff Magistrates' Court on Thursday.

Now Welsh women's groups have branded the legal system as flawed and failing the victims of such abuse. A joint campaign demanding tougher sentences is being launched by Bridgend's Women's Aid and Bridgend Domestic Abuse Forum next week.

``Two women killed by their partners, 11 years apart,'' says organiser Emma Boss. ``What difference has 11 years of education and awarenessraising had if the legal justice system still treats perpetrators the same?''

The groups' initiative, ``Hear the Silence'', was prompted by Jennifer Povey's children, Brian, 24, Steven, 23, and Helen, 21.

Their mother was 51 when she died last July from bleeding in the brain. Her daughter, who is eight months pregnant, said last night, ``There were years and years of abuse that went on there and we thought the sentence was absolutely terrible.

``It was just devastating to hear he had three-and-a-half years, but there was nothing we could do about it. He should have gone down for life because he took my mother's life.''

Welsh Women's Aid and Cardiff Women's Safety Unit, a pounds 300,000 scheme funded by the Home Office, are calling for greater co-operation between agencies such as the police, Crown Prosecution Service and NHS to halt the often-hidden toll.

Jan Pickles, operational manager of the multi-agency unit, believes efficient evidence gathering and information sharing between agencies are the keys to ensuring punishment meets the crime. ``Men may not have appeared in court before for domestic assaults, but there may have been police call-outs or GP records which show women have suffered injuries,'' she says.

``Agencies are sat on pieces of information and are too scared to share it because of data protection. But the Human Rights Act says you have a duty of care and have a duty to ask for that information if you have suspicions.''

Lata Griffith-Unny, spokesperson for Welsh Women's Aid, says the sooner violence is curbed the less likely it is to lead to death.

``Leniency is a real problem within the criminal justice system that needs to be addressed,'' she said. ``It results in a huge failure of the system to protect women who are experiencing domestic violence and are at real risk of being killed by domestic violence.''

Special fast-tracked court hearings have been set up in Cardiff Magistrates Court to help maintain women's determination to press charges. These are proving highly successful but have yet to be extended elsewhere.

Work is under way in Wales to help frontline health workers recognise symptoms of domestic violence and refer victims to appropriate services. …