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Policing reaffirms its determination to tackle domestic abusers

05 Dec 2022

Policing reaffirms its determination to tackle domestic abusers: Policing Reaffirms-1

Familial domestic homicides increase, and scale of victim suicides revealed for first time

  • Policing has repeated its commitment to pursue violent abusers after it published a new report today into tragic deaths at the hands of a partner or family member
  • Whilst homicide by an intimate partner remained the most common (103 deaths in 2021-22), there was no increase in this type from 2020-21.
  • By contrast, homicide by a family member rose by 55%, to 62 deaths. Overall domestic homicides increased by 16% (by 23 deaths) in the year to March 2022.
  • The report also found police identified 14 more suspected victim suicides following domestic abuse than the previous year, a 28% rise.

The report Domestic Homicides and Suspected Victim Suicides 2021-2022, is the second annual report from the national Domestic Homicide Project across England and Wales. The Domestic Homicide Project is a Home Office funded research project led by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) and delivered by the Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP) in collaboration with the College of Policing. Academics, including staff from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) seconded to the VKPP, have led the research in partnership with police.

The report focusses on how policing can improve its response to domestic abuse and domestic homicide, it also presents groundbreaking new work on victim suicide after domestic abuse.

It presents 40 findings from new analysis of both victims and perpetrators, alongside 25 recommendations which aim to help the criminal justice sector improve prevention and investigation of domestic homicides and work more closely with bereaved families. Findings include:

  • Across the two-year period 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2022 there were 470 deaths in total which took place in a domestic setting or following domestic abuse, including 43% intimate partner homicide, 24% suspected victim suicide, 22% adult family homicide, 8% child death, and 3% ‘other’.
  • Overall, in year two the annual number of domestic homicides (including partner or family homicide, excluding child deaths) increased by 23, with 170 deaths recorded between April 2021 and March 2022. This rise was explained by an increase in adult family homicides.
  • Police are identifying more suspected victim suicides with a history of domestic abuse – up 28% to 64 cases in year two.
  • Between year one and year two there was a drop in the proportion of older victims (aged 65 years and older) in intimate partner homicide, to 11%, while in the adult family homicide cases older people remained a high proportion of victims at 42%.
  • Whilst female victims remained by far the most common, especially in domestic homicides, proportionately in year two there were more male victims (32%) across all deaths; male victims were more associated with child deaths.
  • There was a slight rise in LGBTQ+ victims identified, albeit small numbers.
  • Victims and suspects of minority ethnic heritage were over-represented compared to the general population.
  • The proportion of all suspects previously known to police for domestic abuse rose to 66%, from 55% in year one. However, fewer suspects in adult family homicide cases were previously known to police for domestic abuse.
  • Across the two-year findings, only 10% of suspects were recorded as previously having been managed by police or probation.
  • Adult family homicide suspects commonly had mental ill health, caring responsibilities for the victim, and a lack of previous police and agency contact. Policing cannot prevent domestic abuse or homicide alone. Multi-agency partnerships are vital to identify those at risk and put in place appropriate interventions.

Building on the year one findings, this report confirms that coercive and controlling behaviour was a prominent risk factor in both intimate partner homicide and suspected victim suicide cases.

Suspected Victim Suicide after domestic abuse

Uniquely, the Project has established a new National Dataset of suspected victim suicides with a history of domestic abuse, collecting cases from every police force in England and Wales. It is the first ever systematic analysis in the UK of police-identified suspected victim suicides, allowing insights into prevalence and victimisation.

Police identified 28 per cent more suspected victim suicides (14 more deaths) in year two compared to year one.

This increase is in large part due to better identification by police of suspected victim suicides with a link to domestic abuse, meaning that more cases are being identified. This has been driven by awareness generated by bereaved families and campaigners and through the work of this project.

Overwhelmingly, the domestic abuse which preceded the suspected suicide in these cases was from an intimate partner, accounting for 95 per cent of cases in year two.

In suspected victim suicides of younger people (aged 16-24), coercive and controlling behaviour was present in almost all cases and in almost half the victim was known to mental health services.

A lack of consistency across police forces was identified in how they treat suspected victim suicides, including in their terminology, practice and policies. The report makes detailed recommendations to policing about improving identification of suspected suicides after domestic abuse, prosecuting perpetrators after a death, and importantly, listening to and involving families earlier.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Domestic Abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said:

“Every single one of these deaths is a tragic and horrific loss. Every victim is at the forefront of our minds as we work to improve our response and ensure change takes place. I want to thank their families who have worked with us on the report, your courage has made this possible.  

“While policing has a vital role, this report identifies the complexity of these cases and that policing doesn’t hold all the answers.  Victims and perpetrators often have complex needs and we cannot do this alone.  I would ask that all public sector leaders consider these findings as we all have a vital role to play.

“Policing remains committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse, bringing perpetrators to justice and preventing these horrific crimes. We know there is more to do and this report is a key part of how we will move forward.

“We accept all of the recommendations and will aim to quickly address the issues identified. This report, while challenging to read, is an important step and I am grateful to the academics and the team who continue to highlight where policing needs to improve. It is through this work that domestic homicide and victim suicide has been given a platform.

“We are determined to help those who need us, and we will relentlessly go after those who commit these heinous crimes.”

Dr Lis Bates, lead author and Reader in Interpersonal Violence at the University of Central Lancashire, said:

“Whilst Government and police leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to preventing domestic homicides this report shows that, persistently, 100 people a year are dying at the hands of their intimate partners. Time and again we see that coercive and controlling behaviour is a core risk factor in these deaths – it is vital that police and partner agencies tackle this abuse effectively.

“This year we also saw a 1.5 times increase in adults murdered by a family member. A number of these victims were in a caring relationships with the perpetrator, and many perpetrators had mental health issues. These deaths occur in different dynamics to intimate partner homicides and there is a major role for non-police agencies such as adult social care and health, many of whom these families were known to.

“We present important new data on suspected victim suicides following domestic abuse, for the first time systematically showing the scale of the issue. Positively, the police are improving year-on-year in identifying suicides and unexpected deaths where a domestic abuse history may be relevant; and we identify pockets of good practice e.g. on prosecuting perpetrators posthumously for the abuse. There is still much to do. The police have accepted our recommendations to improve how they identify and investigate relevant deaths and join the dots, including listening to families; some have already started acting on them.

“We especially want to thank the families who bravely shared stories of their loved ones and their own painful experiences to improve things for others.”

Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines said:

“Domestic homicide is a devastating crime. We must do all we can to ensure victims of domestic abuse have the protection they need, and that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice.

“This report highlights the scale of the challenge. We will continue to work with the police and other authorities to ensure they are going further to support victims and pursue perpetrators, with a focus on prevention.

“In addition to this work, we are working with the NPCC on a Domestic Abuse Policing and Domestic Homicide Prevention Pilot, as well as investing up to £36 million over the next two years to support the provision of domestic abuse perpetrator interventions, to combat the issue at the root and prevent victims from harm.”