Police should change approach when protecting women and girls, watchdog says

·4-min read

Police forces do not always use protective measures effectively to safeguard women and girls despite some officers working to protect victims, a new report by a policing watchdog has said.

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. It found changes need to be made to the way police, civil and criminal courts coordinate their work so that important information about violent cases does not fall between the gaps.

The Centre for Women’s Justice filed a super-complaint against the police, which prompted the report.

The charity raised concerns that forces in England and Wales were failing to use protective measures in cases involving violence against women and girls.

In the report, published on Tuesday, the bodies found there were good examples of the police using these measures, and a common theme from police forces where there was good practice was support from a legal team.

But it also found evidence of a lack of understanding within police forces over how and when to use or enforce appropriate levels of the measures, such as pre-charge bail conditions, Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs), Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and non-molestation orders, which led to some women and girls being harmed or less likely to report a crime in the future.

One example involved a drunk man ringing police to say he was at his partner’s address and needed to be arrested.

The call handler included in the incident log that the man was subject to pre-charge bail conditions, which prevented him from contacting his partner or visiting her address. But this was not written in the appropriate section, meaning officers were not made aware of the condition.

They arrived at the scene and later left without making any arrests. The man was arrested the next day after he was found on top of the woman and strangling her, stating he was trying to kill her.

Another case involved an officer requesting a DVPN being issued for one man after a woman reported her ex-partner was in her flat and had her keys.

He was arrested and released. Four days later, he approached her in the street and assaulted her, before taking her home and continuing to physically assault her.

The man was arrested again and it was found the notice had not been issued due to a confusion between the police officer seeking the DVPN and the superintendent they had approached for authorisation.

The report said the Policing and Crime Act 2017 resulted in some “unfavourable consequences” for victims, such as bail not always being used when appropriate. It was hoped the upcoming Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill would change that.

In concluded better data collection on the use of protective measures was needed to help the police determine which measures are most effective in different scenarios.

Several recommendations have also been made.

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 sometimes officers were not aware of the powers available to them, or the processes are confusing, which leads to women and girls being harmed.

She said: “We thank the Centre for Women’s Justice for submitting this super-complaint. Ultimately, making sure women and girls are properly protected is not a matter for the police alone. 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.”

Nogah Ofer, solicitor at Centre for Women’s Justice, said: “Passing yet more legislation won’t change women’s experiences if powers are not being used. 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.

“Some recommendations require improved data gathering and tell chief constables in general terms to prioritise and monitor use of orders, but there is a lack of specifics and no discussion of under-resourcing, which is the elephant in the room.

“We fear that in five years’ time the situation will not be much different to today.”

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