Police fail domestic abuse victims - HMIC report

One woman tells of her experience of abuse and police failings

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Thousands of people are at risk of harm or even murder because of widespread police failure in England and Wales to tackle domestic abuse, a report says.

The response from many police forces is alarming and ineffective, the report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said.

Home Secretary Theresa May said she would chair a new group to look at the issue and called for a radical change to the way police responded to it.

Police chiefs said they were working to improve their response, despite cuts.

'Serial offenders'

Greater Manchester, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Gloucestershire police forces were specifically criticised in the report, which said Bedfordshire had only one dedicated domestic violence officer.

For more than 20 years the police have thrown resources at theft-related crimes. Every force knows how to use intelligence-led strategies to identify serial burglars and bring them to book.

HMIC says domestic abuse deserves the same bread-and-butter resources and core tactics - gather the evidence, identify offenders and protect the victims.

In other words, it should be dealt with in the same way as any other high-volume crime.

While police chiefs say domestic abuse is a complex area where officers fear to tread, that does not impress inspectors.

They want chiefs to do more than just change their investigative systems and practices. They want to see forces rethink their culture and ethos and live up to their mission to protect the vulnerable from criminal harm.

And it accused forces of unacceptable weaknesses despite domestic abuse being linked to 8% of crimes and police chiefs saying abuse was a priority.

Of 600 domestic assault files, half did not include pictures of injuries - a standard piece of evidence for a prosecution - the report said.

HMIC said police received more than one million calls a year relating to domestic abuse and almost 58,000 victims - the vast majority of them women - were at risk of serious harm or murder. It said three women a fortnight were being killed by a partner or former partner and a third of all assaults recorded by the police related to domestic violence.

In an exceptionally critical report, HMIC said chief officers must recognise that domestic abuse constituted a major problem that demanded comparable resources and focus to those devoted to tackling other high volume crimes such as burglary.

The report said only eight out of 43 forces were responding well to domestic abuse.

HMIC said that victims faced a "lottery" in how they were treated.

'Poor attitudes'

Sixteen of the 43 forces had no systems in place to prioritise calls from known victims or to prepare emergency response officers, and HMIC blamed many of the failings on the culture and ethos of individual officers.

Crimes of domestic abuse

England and Wales, Sept 2012-13

1m

Calls to police

8%

Of all crimes

  • 269,700 Total domestic abuse-related crimes

  • 57,900 Cases involving high risk of serious harm or murder offences

  • 96,000 Cases of assault with injury

SPL

"HMIC is concerned about the poor attitudes that some police officers display towards victims of domestic abuse," said the report.

"Victims told us that they were frequently not taken seriously, that they felt judged and that some officers demonstrated a considerable lack of empathy and understanding."

'Not an easy journey'

Kimberley [not her real name] was abducted and assaulted by a former partner, leaving her with injuries to her face and body.

She says the first officer sent to interview her was "very inappropriate".

"I had to suggest to him, 'Don't you think you should take some pictures?'" says the 29-year-old.

The officer, who was eventually disciplined, discussed his personal life, she explains.

"He was saying he had a friend in the force who would really like to take a girl like me out."

Her ex-partner was charged and convicted.

But she says: "It was not an easy journey. It could have been made a lot less traumatic, a lot less stressful, because it was already, as you can imagine, bad enough."

She says she has received help from other agencies to get over her ordeal, but adds the experience will never leave her.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said three out of 10 police statements were missing "very important" pieces of information, while arrests were made in just 45% of cases in some police force areas.

"We're asking them to do their job - and their job is, where there's a crime that looks like it's been committed, to arrest. And if they don't they need to give a justification for not arresting," she said.

Mrs May, who commissioned the report, said it made depressing reading and the findings were deeply worrying.

"HMIC makes a series of recommendations to forces and I expect them all to be implemented quickly," she said.

"I am establishing a new national oversight group, which I will chair myself. I expect chief constables to respond to this report by changing radically their response to domestic violence."

Assistant Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said domestic abuse presented "a huge challenge" to police forces.

"It's complex, it's difficult, and it's not something we can do alone," she said.

The UK's justice system "doesn't always lend itself to the complexities of personal relationships", she also said there was "really good practice" in some forces.

'Second-class crime'

One victim of domestic abuse, who did not wish to be named, said the first officer sent to interview her after she was abducted and assaulted by her former partner was "very inappropriate".

"I had to suggest to him, 'Don't you think you should take some pictures?'" she said.

She added: "He was saying he had a friend in the force who would really like to take a girl like me out."

Home Secretary Theresa May says the report findings are "truly disturbing"

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for "proper national standards" and "proper action to make sure that victims get the support they need".

Start Quote

All too often, women and children experiencing domestic violence are let down by many different agencies”

End Quote Refuge

"We've had a drop of 13% in the number of prosecutions for domestic violence even though the number of reports to police has been going up," she said.

"We've had a series of cases where we have put evidence to the home secretary when she's done nothing time and again.

"And that's why I'm very concerned that her response is also not adequate."

Charity Refuge - a domestic violence charity for women and children - said "police failure" was "just the tip of the iceberg".

"At Refuge we know that, all too often, women and children experiencing domestic violence are let down by many different agencies," chief executive Sandra Horley said.

"That's why we are asking the government to open a public inquiry into the response of all state agencies to domestic violence."

Diana Barran, chief executive of charity Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse, said the report was a "a damning indictment of the leadership in the police".

Some of the recommendations were first made 10 years ago, she added.

Men's Advice Line, a domestic abuse charity for men, said it was "concerned" but "not very surprised" by the report.

A spokesman said: "We hope this report will be the catalyst for a major re-think in how the police deal with reports of domestic violence from all victims, male and female."

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