Domestic abuse: Gwent and North Wales police forces criticised

Gwent Police's handling of domestic abuse cases has been highlighted by high-profile incidents in the last few years Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Gwent Police's handling of domestic abuse has been highlighted by high-profile incidents

Two of Wales' four police forces have been criticised over their handling of domestic abuse cases.

A report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) looked at how all 43 forces in England and Wales responded to the problem.

It found victims were at risk of not getting the response or service they needed from North Wales Police.

And it said there were significant concerns about how Gwent Police responded to some victims.

The Gwent force's handling of domestic abuse cases has been highlighted by several incidents in the past few years.

They include an attack on Rachel Williams who was gunned down in her hairdressing salon in 2011 by her estranged husband which the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said could have been prevented.

The case of Carl Mills who murdered three generations of a family, including his six-month old baby, in a flat fire in 2012 was also referred to the IPCC because the police had been called to the address in Cwmbran, Torfaen, previously.

But the most high-profile case came in August 2009, when Joanna Michael dialled 999 twice during an attack by ex-boyfriend Cyron Williams in St Mellons, Cardiff, but police took 22 minutes to respond and did not arrive until after the mother-of-two had been fatally stabbed, suffering 72 separate wounds.

Clare's law

The IPCC found both South Wales Police and Gwent Police, who took the calls, had failed her. Gwent Police later sacked a police call handler for gross misconduct.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Joanna Michael was stabbed to death by her boyfriend in 2009 despite twice ringing 999

The murder came shortly before an incident in Greater Manchester which prompted the launch of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme - known as Clare's Law.

The initiative, which was trialled by Gwent Police between July 2012 and September 2013, and now introduced across the UK, is named after 36-year-old Clare Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009 and had previously complained to the police.

Under the scheme anyone can ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past.

Gwent Police's former chief constable Carmel Napier was the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead officer on domestic abuse when the trial started.

In its report, HMIC recognised domestic abuse was a priority for Gwent Police.

'Not consistent'

But Dru Sharpling, from HMIC, added: "HMIC found significant concerns regarding how the force responded to some victims of domestic abuse.

"Risk assessments are not consistently applied and an absence of supervisory input, or oversight, results in victims not being given the same level of service across the force."

Gwent Police said the force was "working hard to make the necessary changes".

"We recognise the areas of improvement it identifies and these are in line with the areas we identified in our own internal review," said a spokesperson.

Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Ian Johnston, said the report mirrored "areas of improvement identified by Gwent Police force in their own internal review".

"Protecting people from serious harm is one of the key priorities outlined within my police and crime plan," he said.

"With this in mind, I launched my victims' charter in September last year which puts victims at the heart of everything we do and outlines the minimum standard of service people involved in the criminal justice process in Gwent can expect."

He said he wanted to ensure a "victim-centred focus" to services "whether it's male or female victims of domestic abuse".

HMIC was also critical of North Wales Police in its report.

"The force responds well to victims facing the highest risks, however for those assessed as lower risk the service is not as good," Mr Sharpling said.

"The service provided to victims is currently inconsistent and the force cannot be confident that all victims are getting the service they need in terms of both investigating offences and safeguarding victims."

'Work tirelessly'

Det Supt Jo Williams, the North Wales force's head of public protection, said: "Part of our ongoing efforts to develop the service we give to victims of domestic abuse is to review current ways of working to ensure that they are still relevant.

"Victims can be confident that we take domestic abuse seriously and will work tirelessly to protect them."

HMIC said South Wales Police provided a "good service" but with some areas for improvement, while people living in the Dyfed-Powys force area could have "confidence that their local police are committed to providing a good response to victims of domestic abuse and taking robust action with regard to perpetrators".

Det Ch Supt Simon Powell, head of CID at Dyfed-Powys Police, said: "Whilst nationally, HMIC have identified that the police response to domestic abuse is not good enough, it is pleasing to see that here in Dyfed-Powys they have stated that domestic abuse is a priority for the force."

Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales Police Liane James said: "We welcome the HMIC review as South Wales Police is committed to tackling domestic abuse and consistently improving the service we provide to victims.

"There are areas for improvement but as a force we are already working closely with our partners and victims of domestic abuse to address these as we always strive to improve and provide the best service possible to our victims and our communities."

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