'Serious concerns' over police sharing immigration status of domestic abuse victims, report says

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Police must immediately stop sharing immigration information with the Home Office when they have concerns surrounding the residency status of domestic abuse victims, a report has advised.

Those with insecure or uncertain status are apprehensive about coming forward about crimes, which causes "significant harm to the public interest", according to a joint investigation.

The report, led by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), have agreed that many victims fear their situations may worsen if the Home Office knows their legal status. It also states those involved share concerns that they will not be taken seriously.

The report - the first of its kind to be published - follows a policing super-complaint by charities Liberty and Southall Black Sisters about the practice of officers passing on details about abuse victims to government officials.

Super-complaints are grievances made by state-approved watchdogs on behalf of the public.

They allow designated bodies to officially comment on trends in policing that may cause significant harm to the public interest.

The published findings identified "inconsistent approaches" to sharing information with the Home Office and found no evidence that the act of doing so supports the protection of victims.

This includes victims of honour-based violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).It found that the police did not intentionally "operate a culture that prioritises immigration enforcement" but acknowledged that, on occasion, the details given can be used for this reason.

The report claims that offenders may use this to their advantage against their victims - using police involvement "as a threat to their victims, rather than a source of protection".

Although the findings stated the scale of the issue remains unknown, it did note that those at risk of hidden crimes must be treated better - with offenders prosecuted.

The report recommends a separation between the police involvement with a domestic abuse victim and how their immigration status is handled.

It states that as a temporary measure, police in England and Wales must immediately halt in sharing information with immigration teams in instances where they have doubts about a victim's legal status.

It instead advises that those affected should be linked to a third party for assistance.

The report also recommends that the Home Office outlines and clarifies police priorities in a report - with a requested deadline of six months.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor said: "Victims should never be in a position where they fear the actions of the police could unintentionally but severely intensify their vulnerability...

"...and thereby strengthen the hands of organised criminals and others whose motives and objectives are to inspire fear and do them harm."

Pragna Patel, from Southall Black Sisters, said: "This is an excellent and welcome start in engendering confidence in a new system of state accountability in the face of systemic police failure in supporting migrant victims of crime.

She added: "We are relieved that our complaint about the public harm caused to vulnerable victims of domestic abuse by data sharing between the police and the Home Office has been upheld on every single count.

"The report confirms our view that the police response to abused migrant women raises serious concerns and may well be discriminatory."

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said immigrant victims of domestic abuse have been failed by the system "in far too many instances" and called for immediate change.

She said: "We support the recommendations outlined by the HMICRFS and call for the police to immediately stop sharing information when they have concerns".

A Home Office spokesman said: "Our priority is to protect the public and victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.

"There are many examples of when data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement has helped vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic abuse, access support services and secure their immigration status.

The government are reviewing the report's recommendations and "will respond in due course".