'Go home and Google him': How to keep an abuser out of your life

VICTIM: Jade Bayliss, 13, died at her family's home on November 10, 2011.
VICTIM: Jade Bayliss, 13, died at her family's home on November 10, 2011.

Jeremy McLaughlin must have looked like a fair catch to single mum Tina Bayliss. He was mid-30s, big and good looking, and he had a job.

They hooked up and he would come around to her house. But it went quickly downhill. Thirteen- year-old Jade Bayliss didn't like him. She wrote the word "Ford" on his Holden shirt, she made fun of him. She wanted Tina to get back together with her dad.

McLaughlin spent time with Tina's girlfriend and lied about it.

Tina caught him out.

After about five weeks, Tina Bayliss ended it. Except McLaughlin couldn't accept that.

He would let himself into Tina's home when the family were out.

Once, he cooked a meal and left it for them. He turned up once when Jade was home from school.

Tina warned him to stay away, to stop scaring them.

She went to the police, who look- ed up McLaughlin's file. It told them he had served six years of a 12-year sentence in a Perth jail for his role in the 1995 killing of a 14-year-old boy. But they didn't tell Tina this. They sent her away with a trespass order to give to McLaughlin if he turned up again.

On November 10, 2011, McLaughlin burgled Tina's home.

Jade was home, and he stuffed socks in her mouth and strangled her.

Then he started a fire and left the girl's body in the burning house. He was arrested almost immediately.

His ludicrous defence - that someone else killed Jade the same day he burgled the house and set it on fire - was rejected by a jury at the High Court in Christchurch. He will be sentenced for her murder in June.

After the trial, Detective Senior Sergeant John Rae said the police officer who did not tell Tina about McLaughlin's past was being cautious. There were privacy concerns. Rae said if the officer had known McLaughlin's conviction had been a matter of public record - his light sentence provoked protest marches in Perth - "that would be a different kettle of fish".

Rae said the officer could have said in general terms that McLaughlin posed a threat to Tina and Jade. But it was "not anybody's fault".

Rae said Tina had an indication there was something wrong with McLaughlin and there were "all sorts of things on Google".

Ex-policeman and Hamilton private eye Bruce Currie says Google is the first and best option for the ordinary citizen who is looking to be safe before or during or just after the first date. A police check can take eight weeks and requires permission from the person being checked. Currie uses the website Terranet.co.nz to check on property ownership. This gives up all current and past property ownership details with a simple name search for a small fee. The website insolvency.govt.nz will tell you for free if the target has been or is bankrupt or under a summary insolvency order - paying back money to debtors. For a charge, Tenancy Information New Zealand and similar databases will do credit checks, look for fines owed to the Ministry of Justice and warn about people who have been unruly renters. Car ownership used to be able to be checked with the payment of a small fee but that has also now been submerged by privacy concerns and needs a formal and lengthy application under the Official Information Act.

Currie says there is one good way for women to stay safe that is totally free. "Gut feelings, especially with women, often prove to be well-based. Go with your intuition and seek help if you feel it is necessary."

It was this kind of bad feeling that first alerted Angela Ralm that something was not quite right with a guy. Ralm is a director at Hamilton's Key Recruitment and does extensive background checks on job applicants. She says there was one who came across as too good - and a bit intimidating.

"There were no apparent gaps in his CV, though there was a three-year period where he was studying." She looked him up on the internet. "He had been involved in drugs and burglaries, and had hit someone over the head with a baseball bat.

"There was a picture of him online. He had been in prison for three years, studying.

"When the police record eventually came back, there were pages and pages of convictions."

Ralm is all over social media.

Almost everybody has a Facebook account, with the majority not set with any kind of security and free to be browsed.

She says Twitter and LinkedIn are generally used by higher-end clients only. Roadworkers and retailers are not usually found there. The Government's Companies Office will do free name searches to see if the person has run a company. The Personal Property Securities Register will tell you if people's stuff is theirs or belongs to a creditor.

A police check will find a name change but for the average citizen it is a little trickier. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) looks after this. You can get a copy of any birth, marriage, civil union or name change certificate by providing the person's name and the date and place of the event.

If the person you are looking at is still alive, you will need to give DIA your own identity first. If the potential mate claims to have been a soldier, the service history for retired/ex-service personnel is available from the New Zealand Defence Force Archives but, under the Privacy Act, you need the person's permission first.

If he or she is still in the Defence Force, you can't get the records.

Recipients of gallantry and bravery awards are listed on the Defence Force medals website.

Ralm was surprised when her husband and a male colleague said they would never Google a potential mate if they found themselves single again. Ralm always would.

"Women have more to lose. How many female rapists are there?"

She uses the Sensible Sentencing Trust's offender database a lot too, something the trust encourages, but director Garth McVicar says the trust wishes the database was better.

"It is by no means all inclusive, " he says. "What is needed is an official database managed by the courts or the Ministry of Justice so that as soon as a conviction is entered, the offender is listed.

"Potential partners could vet the list to check the background of who they are considering getting involved with."

The threat is not only to women but, with a number of solo mums on the dating scene, also to their children. Anthea Simcock runs Hamilton-based Child Matters, educating against child abuse.

She says a mum in a bar would find it almost impossible to spot a child-sex predator.

"Everyone has met a number of sex offenders and had no idea.

"They're the people next door; they're often married or have been married. They are very plausible."

Simcock warns continually against allowing paranoia to destroy healthy relationships but says the particular situation of single mothers can make them vulnerable.

"When you are bringing up children on your own, it is a boon to find someone who's not only interested in you, but your children as well. Women are often aware that children lack male role models. So the new guy seems to be the full package."

Child Matters has put out a book called Safe Not Sorry on how to spot people who are bad for kids - a category that runs all the way from being overly authoritarian or emotionally abusive to full-blown paedophiles. Among other things, face-to-face interviewers are told to look out for social isolation and a self-view that is different from how others talk about the person.

An attitude that is rigid or punitive or blames or belittles children is a problem, as is a lack of objectivity or personal responsibility. The How Can I Tell book explains how to tell abuse is taking place. Some of the early warning signs include "'accidental" touching of the child, sexual talk or "accidentally" walking in when the child is undressed. Simcock says that when the incidents begin to add up, people should be on their guard.

She thinks it is a terrible thing if a grandfather is scared of having a child on his knee but the flip side is that some people are too trusting.

"When you are entering into an employer/employee relationship, you are doing so in a fairly unemotional, objective way.

"When you are entering into a personal relationship, people are often loath to vet the other person." She says the Bayliss case is a grey area.

"My experience is the police err on the side of keeping people safe and will make comments.

"They could have said: go home and Google him."