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April 23rd 2020

Civil Liberties

All eyes on the police as domestic violence on the increase

Simon Wilson

Simon Wilson

Head of New Claims and Senior Solicitor

All eyes on the police as domestic violence on the increase

The news last week that we’d secured a settlement from West Midlands Police for the family of a murdered Birmingham woman following a catalogue of police errors really struck a chord with people and received widespread media attention.

The news last week that we’d secured a settlement from West Midlands Police for the family of a murdered Birmingham woman following a catalogue of police errors really struck a chord with people and received widespread media attention.

Jacqueline, 51, was found dead in an Edgbaston tower block in January 2014. She died from multiple blunt force injuries after Marcus Musgrove battered her to death. He was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to a minimum of 18 years in July 2014.

An IPCC investigation in 2017 found that Jacqueline was let down by a raft of procedural errors prior to her death and 19 police officers and staff were found to have a case to answer for misconduct. Despite this, no one lost their job as a result.

The widespread interest in the settlement comes at a time when domestic violence has never been higher up the news agenda.

Just this week the same police force that let Jacqueline down so badly reported a staggering 400 arrests for domestic abuse in the past fortnight as pressures associated with lockdown are felt.

It comes after the Home Office finally realised the gravity of the problem by launching a campaign to help victims after a charity reported over a 100% increase in calls from people seeking help during the lockdown.

And while the £2m being made available by the Home Office is a welcome boost for charities dealing with the issue, let’s not forget that tackling domestic violence is the state’s responsibility.

As a civil liberties lawyer it is a sad fact that I come to the problem when it is too late, as in Jacqueline’s case. And whereas every case is unique, almost without exception what unites each of them is that they were entirely avoidable.

My colleagues Neil Hudgell and Victoria Richardson act for the parents of Shana Grice. Shana was just 19 when she was stalked and killed by her former boyfriend in 2016. Like Jacqueline she had been in contact with the police many times in the run up to her death. But, instead of showing concern for a young woman in fear of her life, officers instead gave here a penalty notice for wasting their time. A few months later she was dead. Killed by the very man who she had asked the police to protect her from.

Another of our clients is the family of Katrina O’Hara. Katrina was murdered by her former partner in 2016, like Shana and Jacqueline she had aired concerns to her local police force in Dorset about her former partner. Yet again, after the event a catalogue of failings by the police were found.

The police are often the first line of defence for someone suffering domestic abuse and their record is quite frankly patchy. And while the optimist in me hopes that with the issue so high in the public conscious that their record will now rapidly improve, I remain cynical about whether it will continue post-lockdown.

I also can’t help but feel that it has taken a national emergency to put this life-threatening behaviour higher up the news agenda and that simply isn’t good enough. It should not have taken a pandemic to get the government to address the issue of domestic violence.

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