Ministers to change law to help prevent 'hidden' domestic abuse suicides

5 February 2024, 10:02 | Updated: 5 February 2024, 11:07

Gemma Robinson (right) took her own life after suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her ex. Her sister Kirsty (left) wants change
Gemma Robinson (right) took her own life after suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her ex. Her sister Kirsty (left) wants change. Picture: Supplied
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

Ministers will change the law to improve investigations in to ‘hidden’ domestic abuse suicides, LBC has learned.

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It’s after bereaved families and campaigners blamed “insubstantial, inadequate” police investigations for perpetrators “with a strong hand in their deaths” escaping justice.

LBC highlighted fears that hundreds of abusers have walked free, with at least 114 victims of abuse and coercive control known to have taken their own lives between March 2020 – April 2022.

Kirsty Robinson, whose sister Gemma took her own life after years of domestic abuse at the hands of an ex-partner, told LBC the perpetrator was “able to live a normal life and talk to other women” after charges against him were dropped, because Gemma was no longer alive to support the prosecution.

Ms Robinson told LBC her sister’s ex, Joseph Falconer, was responsible for her death, saying “she would still be here - if she hadn’t have experienced what she did, if she had never have met him, she would still be here.”

Read more: 'She would still be here': sister's grief as top cop urges manslaughter charges when abuse victims take their own lives

In response, National Police Chiefs Council lead for Domestic Abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe told LBC “it can be really difficult to prove” when abuse has been a factor in a suicide, and more prosecutions would rely on improvements in police investigations.

Now ministers say laws will be strengthened to recognise the link between domestic abuse and suicide, which will result in better investigations and more perpetrators facing justice.

A new ‘Domestic Abuse Related Death Review’ will be commissioned whenever there is a death that has, or appears to have, resulted from domestic abuse. The review’s title previously specified homicide cases but is being expanded to include suicides.

As well as physical abuse, this includes controlling or coercive behaviour and emotional and economic abuse. Ministers say it will help to ensure that lessons are learned from fatal domestic abuse cases.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris, told LBC: “This government has made significant progress addressing fatal domestic abuse, including through our landmark Domestic Abuse Act.

“However, there is more to do, and we also need to focus on hidden victims who die from domestic abuse related suicide.

“These changes to will enable agencies to contextualise these horrific offences even if the domestic abuse was not physical in nature, better identify the warnings signs and ultimately, save lives.”

The changes were welcomed by AC Louisa Rolfe, who said it will “enable policing and our partners to better protect victims and prevent further tragedies."

She added there had been “a number of improvements in the police response” since 2020, when officers began working with academics to study every domestic homicide and suicide following domestic abuse in England and Wales.

But she said there was a need for “wider support for victims”, saying “we know that domestic abuse is an incredibly complex, societal issue which policing cannot solve alone.”

The Domestic Abuse Related Death Review process aims to bring together evidence from health services and charities a victim may have been in contact with, as well as police, to identify and implement improvements.

Their aim is to better protect victims in future and prevent further tragedies by highlighting to the police and other agencies what can be done in future to strengthen the response.

The changes will be brought in to law through an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Those feeling distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK.

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