Shocking HMIC reports show police are failing to protect children from domestic violence and demonstrate urgent need for public inquiry, says Refuge

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has today (2 July) released a series of shocking reports investigating the police response to protecting children. The reports’ findings show appalling inadequacies in the way police respond to children affected by domestic violence. National domestic violence charity Refuge is deeply concerned by the findings and is calling for a full public inquiry to investigate.

The report highlights that domestic violence represents ‘the most serious child safeguarding concern’ with an estimated 1.8 million children living with a domestic violence perpetrator in the UK. Worryingly, HMIC found that police were treating a ‘lack of evidence of abuse’ as a conclusion that ‘no abuse had occurred’ and that this ‘was most apparent in cases of domestic violence.’ HMIC found inadequacies at all stages of the child’s journey through the child protection system. It found that ‘in some cases, even simple activities such as taking photographs of the scene, analysing mobile phones, or referring a child for medical attention or for a forensic examination were not undertaken’.

Refuge is appalled by the inadequacy of the police response to domestic violence and is calling for a public inquiry to examine the police and the other agencies with responsibility for keeping abused children safe.

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge, says:

Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive, Refuge“I am shocked by HMIC’s reports, published today. It further exposes the systemic inadequacies in the way the police respond to children who have experienced or who are at risk of domestic violence. A third of the cases HMIC examined were deemed to be ‘inadequate’. HMIC’s assertion that this is ‘a serious cause for concern’ is an understatement.

“HMIC found that police, in too many cases were applying discretion to cope with the volume of cases, and using inadequate investigation techniques as a ‘time-management tool’ and that child protection assessments, meetings and case conferences were ‘functioning as a means of avoiding further police action, rather than as a means by which agencies determine together the best means of helping children.’ This is downright dangerous practice.

“We know the risks to children posed by domestic violence perpetrators. The police receive a domestic violence related call every thirty seconds. And if an abused woman has children, in at least 50% of cases the children are also physically harmed. There are an estimated 1.8 million children living with a domestic violence perpetrator in the UK. That is a staggering number of children at risk. Two women are killed every week by a violent partner or ex-partner and from 2013-2014 twenty-three children (the majority babies) were killed by a violent parent or step-parent. This is also ‘a serious cause for concern’.

“This week would have been the seventh birthday of a little boy called Auden Slack, who was killed five years ago, with his mother, Rachael Slack, by his father Andrew Cairns, in a village in Derbyshire. In 2013 an inquest found that the actions of Derbyshire Constabulary more than minimally contributed to his death, and the death of his mother. His family has been waiting five years to hear the outcome of the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s second investigation. They are still waiting for those findings to be made public. This is a national disgrace.

“I agree, once again, with HMIC that ‘agencies have more to do to address the risks posed by violence in the home’. Refuge is calling for a public inquiry into the police and state’s response to domestic violence. We cannot put up with this any longer. The police are failing, routinely, to respond appropriately to domestic violence. And the police are not the only agency with responsibility to keep abused children safe. Social Services, the Crown Prosecution Service, Education, Health, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) all have a role to play and are all failing victims of domestic violence and their children. We need a public inquiry that examines the problems and the gaps in the system and that recommends solutions. 1.8 million children are living with a perpetrator of domestic violence in this country, and 39,000 babies may be at risk tonight. How many more reports do we need before we see real change and before women and children are allowed to live in safely in their own homes? Please sign Refuge’s petition urging the Government to hold a public inquiry.