#013/2013 – Inspectorate finds improvements in the way Essex Police handles domestic abuse cases: but more needs to be done to ensure risks to victims are adequately managed

Essex Police has taken steps to improve the way domestic abuse cases are handled as a result of criticisms following four tragic domestic murders in Essex between 2008 and 2011 – but needs to do more to ensure the risks to victims are adequately managed, a review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has found.

In December 2008, Maria Stubbings was strangled and murdered by her ex-boyfriend Marc Chivers. Two and a half years later on 06 June 2011, Christine Chambers and her two-year- old daughter Shania were murdered by Shania’s father, and fewer than eight weeks later on 24 July 2011, Jeanette Goodwin was murdered by her ex-partner. All of these cases were subject to investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), whose reports were critical of a number of aspects of the force’s response to domestic abuse.

HMIC’s review assessed whether measures the force has put in place in response to these IPCC reports have ensured risks to victims of domestic abuse are now adequately managed.

Adequate management of risks to victims of domestic abuse means ensuring that those people who handle these cases have all of the relevant information available; that they respond in a targeted way; and that they know when the risk to victims is greatest.

HMIC found that Essex Police has taken a number of important steps since summer 2011 to improve the way in which it deals with domestic abuse cases. Overall governance has been strengthened and arrangements put in place to reduce backlogs in the system. The force has also invested in training and better intelligence is provided to officers who attend incidents. Domestic abuse is a clear priority for the force and it is the only specific type of crime that has been identified as a key area of focus in the PCC’s Police and Crime Plan.

However, the review found that while individual officers carry out appropriate actions to protect and support victims, the overall approach to dealing with victims is fragmented. This risks undermining trust among victims and increases the likelihood of victims being unwilling to support prosecutions.
More needs to be done to ensure that the risks to victims of domestic abuse in Essex are managed:

  • The force should review the way in which its graded response policy is applied to domestic abuse incidents – at the moment most of these incidents are assessed as a priority response which makes it difficult for control room staff to identify those cases that need the fastest response. By treating every case as a priority, there is a risk that the more urgent cases are not being properly prioritised.
  • The force needs to develop staff understanding around the response to domestic abuse, and how dealing with it effectively can enhance the confidence of victims and prevent homicides.
  • The force should ensure the right information is available to staff who handle abuse cases – for example, by reviewing its standard operating procedure to include a question establishing how frightened a caller feels.
  • The force should take immediate steps to monitor cases where perpetrators are taken directly from police custody to court, to help ensure that the risk to victims continues to be managed if the perpetrator is released.
  • The force needs to intensify its work with other agencies across Essex to develop a more co-ordinated approach to domestic abuse.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Zoë Billingham, said:

“Domestic abuse is a very serious crime – as the tragic cases of Maria Stubbings, Christine Chambers, her two-year- old daughter Shania and Jeanette Goodwin demonstrate – and it’s absolutely vital the police get the handling of these cases right for victims. Essex Police should be recognised for taking the positive step of asking for this issue to be reviewed, and the force has taken a number of important steps to address how domestic abuse cases are handled. However, there is still more work to do to ensure that victims get the best possible service from their force.”

ENDS

Notes to Editors

  1. A copy of the full report can be found at www.hmic.gov.uk
  2. At the request of the Chief Constable (and subsequently with the agreement of the Police and Crime Commissioner), HMIC examined whether risks to victims of domestic abuse are now being adequately managed in Essex. The inspection also aimed either to prove or to allay HMIC’s concerns that the significant resource Essex Police has invested in tackling domestic abuse has had a detrimental impact on the force’s effectiveness in tackling other types of crime.
  3. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies.
  4. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600.
  5. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.