Change needed to ensure police can adequately protect women – report

24 August 2021, 00:08

A report has found that women may be being harmed by police not using certain protection measures effectively
A report has found that women may be being harmed by police not using certain protection measures effectively. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Changes need to be made to the way police and courts coordinate their work so that important information about violent cases does not fall through the cracks, a new report by a policing watchdog has found.

The report found that police forces do not always use measures, such as pre-charge bail conditions, effectively to protect women and girls, which may result in victims being harmed or less likely to report a crime in future.

Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, Zoe Billingham, said the police had made "vast improvements" over the past decade in how they respond to crimes, but that sometimes officers were not aware of the powers available to them or they find the processes confusing.

"Ultimately, making sure women and girls are properly protected is not a matter for the police alone," said Ms Billingham.

"A joined-up approach across the police, government, criminal justice system and victim support organisations is urgently needed so that victims do not fall between the gaps."

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The report was a joint investigation by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the College of Policing, and was the result of a super-complaint by the Centre for Women’s Justice against the police.

The report found there were good examples of police using protective measures, which include pre-charge bail conditions, Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs), Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DMPOs) and non-molestation orders.

But it also found evidence of a lack of understanding within police forces over how and when to use the measures, which harmed women and girls.

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In one example, a drunk man rang police to say he was at his partner’s address and needed to be arrested.

The call handler noted that the man was subject to pre-charge bail conditions that prevented him from contacting his partner or visiting her address.

However the note was not written in the correct column so officers were not aware of it.

As a result they did not arrest the man at the time and, the next day, he was found strangling the woman and saying he was going to kill her.

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In another example, an officer asked for a DVPN to be issued for one man after a woman reported her ex-partner was in her flat and had her keys.

The man was arrested and released, but four days later he assaulted the woman and it was found the DVPN had not been issued because of confusion between the officer seeking the order and the superintendent they asked to authorise it.

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The report concluded that better data collection on the use of the measures would help police determine which measures are most effective in different scenarios.

It also made a number of other recommendations to avoid what it called “unfavourable consequences” for victims that resulted from measures not being used where appropriate.

But Nogah Ofer, solicitor at Centre for Women's Justice, said that the report did not “get to grips with the severity of the problem”.

“Passing yet more legislation won't change women's experiences if powers are not being used,” said Ms Ofer.

“The super-complaint recommendations are welcome, however, they do not get to grips with the severity of the problem or go far enough to ensure that police forces make real changes in practice.”

She said that the recommendations lacked detail and made no mention of under-resourcing, which she called “the elephant in the room”.

"We fear that in five years' time the situation will not be much different to today,” she said.

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