Police are “poorly trained and ill-equipped” to properly enforce new laws targeting domestic abuse as it emerges that some forces have brought just a handful of charges over the last two years.
Figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that six police forces in England and Wales laid only five charges or fewer since it became a criminal offence to abuse a partner with “coercive or controlling behaviour”.
Of the 29 constabularies that responded, only 532 charges using that new law were made.
The law, introduced exactly two years ago today, was hailed by Theresa May as “lifesaving” as she promised to stop domestic abuse continuing to be a “scourge on our society”.
However, campaigners and politicians who lobbied to introduce the law, fear that as few as eight forces have signed up to have their officers trained in how best to apply the legislation. It is hoped that if “psychologically violent” partners are targeted by police the two-a-week murder rate of women at the hands of male partners could begin to fall.
Harry Fletcher, of Victims Rights Campaign, said it was “deeply disappointing” that so few charges were brought in part due to poorly trained and ill equipped officers.
“This is a clear reflection of inadequate police training. There appears to be a cultural problem with in the police’s middle and higher levels of management who prioritise training options for officers,” he said.
“The Government must, as a matter of urgency, set up a training programme to deliver a cultural change towards domestic violence among the middle and higher ranks of the police.”
The Freedom of Information requests brought by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism showed that 18 months since the law’s introduction, the Metropolitan Police, the biggest force in England and Wales, brought just 36 cases. Meanwhile, the far smaller Suffolk force charged 54 people with the offence.
In 22 forces, fewer than two individuals were charged per 100,000 of the population. It is feared that this is in stark contrast to estimates that 1.2 million women and 700,000 men were victims of domestic abuse last year.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of the domestic violence charity Refuge, said although controlling behaviour can be “incredibly subtle” and consequently difficult for officers to gather evidence about police forces needs to do more to tackle the menace of domestic violence.
“Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s investigations have revealed that the police response to domestic violence needs improvement,” she said. “At Refuge, we hear of countless incidents where police disbelieve women or fail to investigate properly. It is unacceptable that some police forces still do not always arrest perpetrators of domestic violence.
“This is the case even when there is evidence of physical assault, so it is hardly surprising that the police are failing to use the new coercive control legislation.”
Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the lead for domestic abuse at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “Under the Serious Crime Act, police officers need evidence of a pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour before they are able to take action. This, combined with the fact that the legislation is relatively new, means that we would expect gradual progress.
“Every force trained their officers in how to apply this legislation two years ago and controlling or coercive behaviour forms a key part of the College of Policing’s domestic abuse training.”
The requests for information were sent to the 43 police forces in England and Wales. Although the charge rates are known, the data on how many of those resulted in actual convictions is not known.