Inspectors criticise handling of domestic abuse cases where victim withdraws support

Handling of domestic abuse cases where the victim withdraws their support for police or court action requires improvement, inspectors have found.

A joint report by two watchdogs looked at 78 domestic abuse cases where police decided to take no further action because there was no support from the victim.

In 15 of these, inspectors said police missed the chance to look at reasonable lines of inquiry before closing the investigation.

There were delays in gathering evidence in 12 of the incidents, causing a negative outcome in six.

Police put this down to lack of resources.

The watchdogs found that in 38 of the 76, the decision to take no further action had not been checked by a supervisor.

They also looked at 160 cases dealt with by magistrates, and 40 where prosecutors had decided no further action should be taken.

Examining 196 of these, the inspectors found that the police investigation considered all reasonable lines of enquiry in 149 (76%).

They said: “Our assessment is that, in many cases, the police did not conduct an investigation to the standards expected.”

The inspectors found that in 178 of the 200 cases, prosecutors should have planned how to progress if the victim withdrew support, but they failed to do so in 75 of the cases.

The report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) acknowledged the effects of austerity at the time of the inspection in 2018.

But they recommended that police and prosecutors begin measuring performance in evidence-led cases to boost best practice.

Their report said: “The domestic abuse caseload for both the CPS and the police has increased by 88% against the backdrop of a 25% reduction in police and CPS funding.

“This means both investigators and prosecutors are stretched, which results in difficult decisions about priorities.

“However, this inspection found that neither the police nor the CPS can distinguish those cases where an evidence-led approach may be more effective.

“This is because there are no systems to flag relevant cases – those that are suitable to be built by the police and prosecuted by the CPS – as evidence-led.”

The areas where files were drawn from were police forces in Cheshire, Gwent, Hertfordshire and Staffordshire and the corresponding CPS areas.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for domestic abuse, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, said: “Domestic abuse is a devastating crime for victims and it’s something the whole police service is committed to tackling. Despite reports rising considerably at a time when police resources have reduced, we have seen a ‘substantial improvement’ in our response, as recognised previously by HMICFRS.

“When a victim does not support a prosecution we will always consider their vulnerability, ensure their safety and seek evidence to pursue the case, but this can be challenging when other evidence is limited.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.