Domestic abuse crimes rise 24% but number of charges sought for suspects falls

The number of domestic abuse crimes reported to police shot up 24% in the last year but the number of suspects officers sought to charge dropped 11%, figures show.

Coercive control offences have also nearly doubled in the year to March and killings fuelled by domestic abuse now account for 20% of homicides, statistics published on Monday showed.

The news comes on the International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women and follows a study commissioned by Vodafone which indicated more than half a million working women in the UK were subjected to domestic violence and abuse in the past year.

There were a total of 1,316,800 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, up 118,706 from the previous year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Of these, 746,219 were subsequently recorded as crimes, up from 599,549 in the previous year – a volume increase of 146,670 (24%).

The increase could be due to improvements in the way police record offences as well as a rise in the number of victims coming forward, the ONS said.

But police only made 98,470 referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for suspects in domestic-abuse related cases to be charged, down from 110,653 the previous year.

The charging rate fell slightly from 76% to 74% during that time.

While more than three-quarters of prosecutions to the end of March resulted in a conviction.

The number of incidents of coercive control rose from 9,053 in the year ending March 2018 and 17,616 for the same period this year.

Although the ONS report said such increases were “common for new offences and the rise could be attributed to improvements in recognising incidents of coercive control by the police and using the new law accordingly”.

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There were 366 domestic homicides recorded by the police in England and Wales between April 2016 and March 2018, accounting for 20% of all killings of victims aged over 16.

The number of people killed as a result of domestic violence in the UK is at its highest level in five years, according to figures reported earlier this year.

Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s work on domestic abuse, said the fall in charging referrals was “concerning” and it was working with the CPS to “understand the complex reasons for this.”

She added: “The large increases in reporting comes alongside more complex and demanding investigations and the pressure on police resources.

“Arrests and prosecutions may provide a temporary respite for victims but a public health response is vital to keep people safe and provide a lasting solution.”

There were 570,581 incidents (43%) which were not recorded as crimes – which the report says could be because after investigation, police decide no offence has been committed.

For example, when a neighbour reports a couple shouting next door but officers determine no crime took place, the ONS said.

Just over one-third (35%) of the 1,671,039 offences of violence against a person during this period were domestic abuse-related.

Sexual offences had the second highest proportion, with 14% of the 162,030 recorded offences being domestic abuse-related.

The report said the data can only provide a “partial picture of the actual level of domestic abuse experienced” because it is often a hidden crime which is not reported to police.

Responding to the figures, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow attorney general, accused the Conservatives of having a domestic abuse strategy which was “not fit for purpose” while claiming her party had a “radical plan” to combat the problem and protect victims.

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chairman of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, called on the next government to have “long-term, sustainable funding” to tackle the problem, adding: “There needs to be a greater focus on prevention and early intervention measures to tackle the root causes.”