Services should ‘do more’ to stop domestic abuse killings, says Domestic Abuse Commissioner

The vast majority of victims of domestic homicide were in touch with the police, health services and other public agencies before their death, according to research published by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Manchester Metropolitan University.

The four thematic reports published are drawn from a sample of 302 reviews following domestic abuse related deaths between 2012 and 2019, collated by Manchester Metropolitan University’s HALT project, led by Professor Khatidja Chantler, for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

These extensive reviews, known as Domestic Homicide Reviews, are conducted after every domestic homicide and domestic abuse related suicide. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner says these reviews are crucial in understanding what needs to be done to prevent a death in the future, but while changes can happen at a local level, often the recommendations are for wider regional or national change without any way of ensuring that will happen.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is launching the first national oversight mechanism for domestic homicide reviews in England and Wales to ensure public bodies and national government learn from these reviews. The Commissioner has written to Ministers across government departments to ask how they are making the changes recommended by domestic homicide reviews.

The four reports focussed on recommendations for four types of agencies: criminal justice agencies like police and probation, physical and mental health services, children’s services, and adult social care. 52% of victims had already had contact with the police before they were killed, according to one of the reports which looked at 46 reviews which made recommendations for criminal justice agencies like the police or probation. 57% of perpetrators had criminal records for domestic abuse offences before killing their victim.

There were nineteen reviews which identified children under 18 living in the home, and in five, children were also victims of homicide. Reviews consistently highlighted the failure to seriously consider the voice and experiences of the child, according to the study.

What’s more, 78% of victims and 69% of perpetrators had been to physical health services such as GPs or hospitals prior to the homicide, among 58 DHRs that looked at recommendations for health services. More than two thirds of these reviews found that health services were not sharing information or working together with other agencies.

The study identified 12 deaths where the perpetrator was the main carer for the victim. The report found that domestic homicide experienced by older people is poorly recognised. Only a small number of victims had received support from a domestic abuse specialist organisation among all reviews in the study. Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said:

“Any life lost to domestic homicide is a tragic failure by systems that should be there to protect victims. That both victim and perpetrator were known to services in the vast majority of these homicides shows there is a life-saving opportunity to intervene earlier.

Domestic Homicide Reviews have been gathering vital learning to prevent future deaths since 2011. Until now, there has been no mechanism to ensure the changes these important reviews call for are happening at a regional and national level. Too often, this leads to stagnation and the vital changes to save lives are not made.

That’s why I’m launching this domestic homicide oversight mechanism to hold public bodies and national government to account so that they take the important steps to preventing future deaths. I want to see cross-governmental leadership to ensure that all agencies – from health to children’s services – make ending domestic homicide a priority.”

Professor Khatidja Chantler, Principal Investigator at the HALT study, said:

“This in-depth study of recommendations relating to the thematic areas of health, adult social care, criminal justice and children’s services illustrate specific gaps in each of these practice areas.

A systems level change is required which has a robust response to domestic abuse and is attentive to the intersectional identities of victims and perpetrators, including ‘race’, gender, age, disability and sexuality.

The Domestic Homicide Oversight Mechanism offers a new possibility for ensuring that lessons from these tragic deaths are acted upon to strengthen responses to domestic abuse.”

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