Victims have been put at risk by an ‘inexplicable and unacceptable’ police approach to domestic abuse, a damning report has found.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said Hampshire police had the lowest arrest rate for domestic abuse in England and Wales, and the highest number of victims not supporting investigations across all types of crime.
The effectiveness report, published today, rated the force as ‘requires improvement’ – and inspectors only stopped short of branding it inadequate as bosses had started to make changes.
With arrests of violent partners so low, it said the force ‘is failing to take the appropriate positive action necessary to properly protect victims of domestic abuse’.
The force’s second-in-command, deputy chief constable Sara Glen, has said the criticisms are being taken ‘very seriously’ but said it has a high domestic abuse victim satisfaction rate.
Yet the force has admitted its arrest rate for domestic abuse was ‘too low’ and it ‘had gone too far’.
I also find it inexplicable and unacceptable that approaching two thirds of investigations into domestic abuse do not progress in Hampshire Constabulary because it is said that the ‘victim does not support police action’Zoe Billingham - HM Inspector of Constabulary
Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: ‘I’m very disappointed to find that performance of the force has deteriorated in some vital areas of policing, in particular its service to victims of domestic abuse.’
She added: ‘I also find it inexplicable and unacceptable that approaching two thirds of investigations into domestic abuse do not progress in Hampshire Constabulary because it is said that the “victim does not support police action”.
‘This is far below the figure in many other forces.
‘In addition, the force has the lowest arrest rate for domestic abuse in England and Wales – arresting only a quarter of perpetrators of this dreadful crime, whereas some other forces arrest over two thirds.
‘The force would have been judged as inadequate in how it protects vulnerable people had it not taken steps to address these concerns before our inspection began.’
The report into police effectiveness comes after two previous reports, in efficiency and legitimacy, rated the force as good in those aspects.
n Arrests for domestic abuse were the lowest in England and Wales, with 25 per 100 cases in the year to June, 30 2016.
n Nearly a quarter – 24.6 per cent – of all cases ended as the victim did not support police action – the worst proportion in England and Wales.
n This rate increased to 60 per cent for domestic abuse.
n Risk to victims was not established in some cases and investigations were inefficient as domestic abuse victims were assessed over the phone not in person, despite HMIC criticising this December 2015.
n It takes eight days for an investigator to be assigned to a case after the initial report, except for in domestic cases where it take 24 hours.
n Drop in people detained or interviewed from 40,000 to 32,500, against a 10.9 per cent increase in crime.
HMIC has told the force to come up with a plan by May 1.
Victims’ commissioner Baroness Newlove said: ‘It takes an enormous amount of courage for victims to come forward and report that a crime has taken place, which is why I am astonished that Hampshire police only made arrests in 25 per cent of domestic abuse cases.’
She acknowledged financial difficulties but said: ‘Victims should not be disregarded or put at further risk because forces are cherry-picking which vital services to deliver.’
Shonagh Dillon, chief executive of Havant-based domestic abuse charity Aurora New Dawn, said: ‘Aurora doesn’t disagree with any of the recommendations from HMIC.
‘We have a strong partnership with Hampshire Constabulary and are confident that they will respond appropriately.
‘We know that actions are already in place to improve responses around prosecutions.’
Ms Glen said: ‘We are taking this very seriously.
‘Looking after vulnerable people is a major focus for us all, and whilst we are getting it right in our neighbourhoods, on child sexual exploitation, mental health, and tackling modern slavery, we are all disappointed that our efforts in some areas of domestic abuse have been found to require improvement. This only makes us more determined.’
John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, said: ‘This isn’t a case of dedicated police officers and members of staff being unprofessional.
‘This is about people, over-stretched, trying to juggle many, many important tasks and HMIC come along and click their fingers and we respond. We simply don’t have the resources.’
‘Changes have been made’
HAMPSHIRE police were commended for making changes ahead of the inspection by HMIC.
Yesterday the force said it had made improvements, and pointed to its strengths.
n Victims of domestic abuse are no longer assessed over the phone, as of December 2016.
n Police now attend all domestic violence incidents.
n The force said it only used the phone assessments for the lowest risk cases to be able to keep good response levels and help tackle missing people and child sexual exploitation. The force said: ‘We do not believe that this practice put anyone at risk.’
n 83 per cent of domestic abuse cases that go to court are successful.
n 79.5 per cent of victims were satisfied with their experience with the police, HMIC said.
n The force said its victim satisfaction rate for domestic abuse was 86 per cent.
n The domestic abuse arrest rate has gone from 27 per cent to 40 per cent, the force said.
n Police response to vulnerable people is good, HMIC said.
n A recent report, co-authored by Ofsted, HMC, the Care Quality Commission and HMI Probation, had Hampshire Constabulary highlighted as one of a number of agencies showing ‘a strong standard of work on domestic abuse’.
n The force works innovatively to protect some of the most vulnerable people and has robust systems to ensure those people vulnerable to sexual exploitation and who are suffering from mental illness are safeguarded, HMIC said.
In a statement the force added: ‘We have worked hard in recent years to educate our officers and staff to listen to the views of victims of crime.
‘We believe that this has led to them acting in line with the wishes of victims, but we are looking at whether this has gone too far and whether on occasion we should be doing more to encourage people to take forward their case.’
‘HMIC is out of touch – former crime commissioner’
Inspectors’ findings about how police deal with domestic abuse have been branded out of step, embarrassing and appalling.
Former police and crime commissioner for Hampshire, Simon Hayes, hit out at today’s report by HMIC.
Mr Hayes, PCC from 2012 to 2016, said the force was backed by the Home Office to focus on re-offending through Project CARA, which sees police not arrest perpetrators.
He said the force’s admission it had gone ‘too far’ in reducing its arrest rate was a sign of not wanting to offend HMIC.
Mr Hayes said: ‘HMIC is out of step and they should be embarrassed about being out of step and actually I think that this is an appalling judgement on the way Hampshire Constabulary operates and it’s going to do nothing for confidence of victims and it’s likely to make the situation even worse.’
On the force’s admission, he said: ‘I’m not surprised that the force wants not to offend HMIC, there’s politics and diplomacy here.’
HMIC’s Zoe Billingham said: ‘I’m in kilter with the view of the force and I know that I’m in kilter with the view of victims of domestic violence who want to be properly supported by the police.’
Current PCC, Michael Lane, said: ‘I will pay close attention to the areas identified.’