Refuge calls for public inquiry after HMIC investigation criticises police

In September 2013 the Home Secretary, Theresa May, commissioned HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) to undertake a national inspection of the police response to domestic violence.  Over the last six months, HMIC has been visiting all police forces across the country to look at how they respond to victims of domestic violence.

 

Refuge agrees with HMIC’s recommendation that there should be a further inspection of wider agencies that respond to victims of domestic violence (health, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation)[1].  We believe that this inspection should take the form of a public inquiry into the response of all state agencies to victims of domestic violence.

 

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of RefugeSandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, says:

“HMIC has come to a stark conclusion: the police response to domestic violence is “not good enough”.  This should be a wake-up call to every police force across the country.  Domestic violence is an horrific crime that kills two women every week.  It is a national disgrace that decades after Refuge opened the world’s first safe house for victims of domestic violence, the police are still not responding appropriately to women and children’s cries for help.

HMIC has found “unacceptable failings in core policing activities”.  It has revealed deeply entrenched problems with police culture and attitudes towards victims, with many officers failing to take domestic violence seriously or even believe women when they report abuse.  HMIC has shown that officers are failing to collect evidence and arrest violent men.  Alarmingly, the report has also highlighted that weaknesses in the police response are putting women and children in danger.

Many of the thousands of women and children Refuge supports describe their feelings of outrage, disappointment and shock at the treatment they have received by police.  We also work closely with families whose loved ones have been killed by their partners, in cases where the police – and other state agencies – have failed to protect them.  Losing a beloved sister, daughter or mother causes unspeakable grief.  Losing a loved one in circumstances where state authorities failed to protect them is appalling.  The families of Maria Stubbings, Rachael and Auden Slack, Sabina Akhtar, Katie Summers and Colette Lynch know this all too well.

Two women are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales.  This death toll has not changed in over a decade.  In many cases, women have begged the police for help before they were killed.  And in too many cases the police – and other state agencies – have failed to protect them.  Refuge believes that there should be a mandatory arrest policy for domestic violence, as there is in Canada.

We are encouraged by HMIC’s rigorous inspection and far-reaching findings into police failure.  For decades, Refuge has been fighting to bring these failings to light.  We are delighted that HMIC has validated the experiences of the women and children we support.

HMIC’s inspection is a hugely important and positive first step – but it is only a first step.  As HMIC points out, we now need a much broader inspection of how all state agencies respond to domestic violence.  Refuge knows all too well that the roots to problems uncovered by HMIC are deeply embedded and widespread.  It is not only police officers who are failing women and children on a staggering scale.  The truth is that women and children experiencing domestic violence are often let down by a number of agencies, including the CPS, local authorities, social services, health and probation.

That is why Refuge is calling on the Government to open a full public inquiry into the state response to victims of domestic violence.  A Stephen Lawrence style inquiry would uncover the truth.  It would help us to understand why the death toll taken by domestic violence continues to be so shockingly high.  It would help us to deliver meaningful change that will make Britain a safer place for women and children.

The UK Government has a duty to respond appropriately to domestic violence in line with its international legal obligations.  Refuge has taken legal advice on this issue.  We have been advised that there is a legal imperative for the Government to take steps to address systemic deficiencies in the state response to victims of domestic violence, and that a public inquiry would enable the Government to fulfill that duty.

Refuge wants to see lasting change.  Please join us in our call for a public inquiry by signing our petition.”

 

Refuge’s campaign for a public inquiry is being backed by a number of families 

 

Cassandra (‘Cassie’) Hasanovic – killed by her estranged husband, Hajrudin Hasanovic, in 2008: in February 2014 an inquest jury found that Sussex Police, Kent Police and the CPS all failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard Cassie’s life.  In relation to Sussex Police and the CPS the jury also found unanimously that had they taken appropriate steps, there is a “substantial chance” that Cassie would not have been murdered.

Sharon de Souza, Cassie’s mother, says:  “My daughter Cassie was a beautiful, courageous young woman, who did everything within her power to protect herself and her children. She was a wonderful mother whose greatest wish was the chance to watch her children grow up.  Although her situation was in the hands of three different agencies, ultimately these agencies let her down. The jury have unanimously decided what we always felt: that there were a number of serious failings by all three state agencies that ultimately impacted on her chance to a life.  I would like to end by supporting Refuge’s call for a public inquiry in the hope that another family does not have to go through what we have.  Please join our call for a public inquiry and sign the petition.”

Rachael and Auden Slack – killed by Rachael’s ex-partner, Andrew Cairns, in 2010: an inquest in 2013 found that Derbyshire Police made a number of failings that contributed to their deaths, including failing to inform Rachael that both she and Auden had been assessed as being at high risk of homicide.

Hayden and Melony Slack, Rachael Slack’s brother and sister-in-law, says: “The space that has been left in our lives by the tragic loss of Rachael and Auden will never be filled and never should be.  Rachael was a devoted mother, an intelligent, trusting and truly caring young woman.  Last year, a jury inquest found that police failings contributed to the deaths of Rachael and Auden.  We hope that this finding will help ensure that the police learn lessons and instigate necessary changes to their approach and procedures in order to protect the lives of other women and children deemed to be at risk of domestic violence – a problem the Coroner described as an “epidemic”.  And we add our voice to the calls of Refuge and other families such as that of Maria Stubbings for a public inquiry into state failings in response to domestic violence.”

Maria Stubbings – killed by her ex-partner, Marc Chivers – a man who was known to police, having served a life sentence for killing another ex-girlfriend – in 2008: in 2013 the IPCC found that Essex Police missed a large number of opportunities to proactively safeguard Maria and her son, and failed to monitor the escalating risk or to detain Marc Chivers before her murder at his hands.

Manuel Fernandez, Maria’s brother, says: “The police say lessons have been learned – but then we read about other cases where Essex Police and other forces have failed women in Maria’s situation.  That’s why we’re calling for a public inquiry.  We want justice for Maria and for all women facing domestic violence who are failed by the state.”

Colette Lynch – killed by her ex-partner, Percy Wright, in 2005: in 2009, the coroner found that a series of failings by the police, social services and mental health services contributed to Colette’s death.

Joseph Lynch, Colette’s brother, says: “I am supporting Refuge’s call for a public inquiry in memory of my dear sister, Colette. So many of the deaths taken by domestic violence are preventable. The police, social services, mental health services and the Crown Prosecution Service need to get the basics right.  My message we have is clear – do your jobs properly and prevent the preventable.”

Katie Summers – killed by her ex-partner, Brian Taylor, in 2008: in 2009, the IPCC found that Greater Manchester Police had made a number of failings in their dealings with Katie. The police were contacted 11 times in the 16 months leading up to Katie’s death but each incident was handled in isolation, failing to correctly assess the increasing risk to Katie’s life.

Sarah Summers, Katie’s sister, says: “I want to see real change in the way that women experiencing domestic violence are treated by the criminal justice system.  Too many police officers, judges and social workers still don’t understand the severity of this crime.  That’s why I am supporting Refuge’s call for a public inquiry.  I am speaking out in Katie’s name – to help other women and children get the support they need.”

 

Testimonies of women in Refuge’s specialist domestic violence support services between 1st April 2013 – 14th March 2014

 

“He held a knife to my throat. I was disappointed he was given a caution.”

“The CPS have changed the charge from threats to kill to harassment despite the threat being “YOU KNOW WHAT? I’M GOING TO F****** KILL YOU. I’VE GOT MONEY. I KNOW PEOPLE. I’LL GET A F****** GUN AND SHOOT YOU.’’

“I was upset the first time the police officer called me after the incident. When he rang again he said: ‘good; you’ve stopped crying now. I don’t do crying’.”

“I told the police not to bother coming because he’d be gone by the time they arrived; the last time I had called the police he had tried to strangle me and it took them two months to arrest him.”

“The police did not listen to me. I waited six hours but no-one came.”

“I did not feel supported by the police. I was afraid and crying. I felt the police did not believe me or think it was as serious as I made it sound; they did not help me.”

“I called the police to ask for help as my ex-partner would not let me leave the house. The police told me they were too busy; I waited for over an hour. In the end I called Refuge who liaised with the police who eventually arrived and let me out. That’s when I managed to escape to a refuge.”

“I was scared to ring the police because my ex-husband WAS the police.”

“My ex-partner told me that the police officer referred to me as ‘a psycho’ during an interview after the tape had stopped recording. When I confronted the officer she apologised saying that it was just an interviewing tactic. I don’t trust the police anymore.”

“The police officer called me up and asked why I had called the police. He didn’t understand my feelings and questioned my report asking if I had any evidence. The officer said: ‘‘it’s not [a] strong case; you are wasting our time’’. He didn’t take a statement and asked me to go in to the police station.”

“On one occasion the police officer referred to the incident as ‘just a domestic’ and told me that we should ‘just make up’”.

“I didn’t know when he was in court and when he was, my mother’s address was disclosed so then I had to then leave and go into a refuge. No-one told me about the date of the trial; I had to do everything myself.”

 

 


[1] Recommendation 11 (p.24 of HMIC report)