WARNINGS that major cuts to a vital domestic abuse support service would lead to women being ‘murdered’ in Portsmouth fell on deaf ears as plans to slash funding were approved.
Now Portsmouth City Council’s Tory administration is banking on party police and crime commissioner candidate Michael Lane to get elected in May and replace the £130,000 it has chosen to take away to help balance the books.
The decision came despite scores of campaigners, including members of the militant Sisters Uncut group, gathering on the steps of Portsmouth Guildhall with signs and megaphones to warn that murder rates would rise if the cuts were approved.
Under the watchful eye of almost a dozen police officers, the protesters shouted: ‘Two women a week – murdered!’ as some laid across the steps surrounded by fake blood.
Chaos then broke out in the council chamber – where the controversial plans were approved yesterday as part of the council’s £11m revenue savings programme – as campaigners fired a device spraying confetti and displayed a ‘Donna cuts, we bleed’ banner.
This came as Tory council leader Donna Jones was about to address Shonagh Dillon, chief executive of domestic abuse charity Aurora New Dawn, after she presented a petition condemning the cuts.
The level of abuse that Shonagh and other campaigners have had to put up with, is appalling. All because they had the courage to stand up to this administration and say they were doing something wrong.Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Portsmouth Lib Dem group leader
The scenes prompted the meeting to be halted and police were called in. A 25-year-old woman from Enfield, North London, was arrested on suspicion of discharging a firework in a public place.
Cllr Jones warned there would be repercussions following the ‘frightening behaviour’.
She said: ‘This has been a systematic attack against me for the past three to four months. This is a group of people that campaign against violence to women, yet I have never been so frightened and targeted in all my life.’
But critics played down the tensions and say passions ran high because of grave fears about the safety of women in the city.
Tory community safety boss Rob New was condemned after he accused Ms Dillon of stirring up trouble and arranging the protests – despite her issuing a Facebook statement to say she played no part in them.
Lib Dem leader Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘They weren’t using violence – they chanted, they set something off which produced a bit of confetti. The level of abuse that Shonagh and other campaigners have had to put up with is appalling.
‘All because they had the courage to stand up to this administration and say they were doing something wrong.’
There are about 500 domestic violence victims supported in Portsmouth. But a council insider warned the true figure could be far greater and that staff were already overwhelmed.
‘We could be looking at there being deaths and murders in Portsmouth for lack of support,’ they said.
The council will not impose domestic abuse cuts for 14 months and agreed to put £50,000 back into the service before the need to make the savings from 2017.