Government tackled over release of domestic abuse suspects without bail curbs

Victims of domestic violence must not be placed at risk because of uncertainty around the use of police bail leading to suspects being released without restrictions, a former champion has warned.

Baroness Newlove (pictured), who recently stepped down as Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said it had not only threatened people’s safety, with alleged perpetrators returning to the family home, but also damaged confidence in the police.

The “real concerns” felt by support workers over the declining use of police bail – linked to Government reforms to the pre-charge regime – was raised by the Tory peer as she introduced a debate on domestic violence in the House of Lords.

Her comments follow an inspection report earlier this year which found rising numbers of domestic abuse suspects were being released without conditions after a steep fall in the use of police bail.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) revealed the number of people released on all types of bail for domestic abuse crimes had dropped “considerably”, by nearly two-thirds (65%).

Police were instead releasing suspects “under investigation”, meaning they are not subject to curbs such as a ban on contacting the alleged victim.

In response to concerns over the fall in use of pre-charge bail, new operational guidance was recently issued to police officers and staff reinforcing its use as “a legitimate tool in investigating crime and protecting the public”.

Speaking at Westminster, Lady Newlove said the failure to use police bail had led to some suspects being “back on the doorstep as soon as they leave the police station”.

She said: “When this happens it not only places victims at risk but does untold damage to that victims’ confidence yet again in the police.”

Lady Newlove added: “I am not interested in the intricacies of politics, human lives are more important than that.

“No victim must ever be placed at risk because frontline staff are unsure when bail can be used.”

Opening the debate, Lady Newlove said: “Domestic abuse is a complex and hideous crime which knows no social bounds.

“It affects people from all walks of life in all our communities.”

Pointing out the estimated annual cost of domestic abuse was £66 billion, she added: “The human and emotional costs borne by an individual victim cannot be quantified.

“We cannot and must not stand by and allow this social ill to fester any longer.”

Last month, the Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to end the postcode lottery for those fleeing domestic abuse.

She announced that thousands of survivors seeking refuge from abusive and violent relationships will be better protected by a new legal duty for councils to provide secure homes for them and their children.

The Government had already unveiled a draft Domestic Abuse Bill aimed at supporting victims and their families and tackling offenders.

The legislation will introduce the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse to specifically include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical abuse.

It will also establish a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner and prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts.

While welcoming plans, Lady Newlove stressed the need for them to be properly financed.

She said: “Aspirations are welcome… but they must be backed up with sustainable funding that makes them the reality for the lives we need to save.”

Lady Newlove, whose husband was murdered by youths he challenged outside their home in 2007, will be succeeded as Victims’ Commissioner by Dame Vera Baird.

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