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Peter Walker retired as Deputy Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police in 2003.  He now owns SuperSkills, a Construction Training Business in Thirsk, and is on the Westminster candidates’ list. 

Simply “not good enough” – that’s the conclusion of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor in his damning report about police handling of domestic violence investigations published today.

No doubt the familiar mantras about needing to “learn the lessons” will be rehearsed by all and sundry about the succession of failures the Chief Inspector describes, but the simple fact is the police have been systemically letting vulnerable people down.

This is not a policy failure – the fault lies in operational application. As Winsor points out, effective frameworks for officer training, operational response and joint working with the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies have been in place for some time.

Reading of “ineffective” so-called “e-learning” programmes with no opportunity for officers to discuss how their knowledge should be applied in practice is just one example of how a “tick box” approach to meeting a training requirement simply wastes everybody’s time without improving the operational response.

Many of the criticisms voiced by HMIC stem from a culture within the police that mentally segregates “domestics” from “proper” crime in the minds of not only the officers attending, but their leadership within police forces as well.

The evidence uncovered by the inspection reveals poor practice ranging from responding officers not taking the victim’s allegations seriously to a consistent failure to gather or review the evidence available. (In over half the cases looked at, no photographs were taken of a victim’s injuries and less than a fifth of the initial telephone calls made by the victim were reviewed for their evidential value.)

Incidents that occur within relationships present some of the most complex investigative challenges that police officers face. The primary witness may well appear uncooperative, not just at the time, but subsequently, as any potential prosecution and court appearance looms.

The perpetrator’s behaviour may not be one that leads to physical injury, yet the threat remains clear to the victim. Often, the officers patrolling the area will respond to an address in the knowledge they or their colleagues have been there many times before, may have put time and effort into starting a prosecution case, only to see their efforts apparently wasted when the Crown Prosecution Service refuse to prosecute because the victim has changed their mind about going to court.

Coupled with the “target chasing” culture that Labour created in the police, (targets which Chief Constables stubbornly retain, despite Theresa May making it clear their task is to reduce crime), the result is that officers attending reports of domestic violence appear to do so reluctantly and are only too happy to go somewhere else. HMIC reports a case where the victim said:

“Last year one officer came out and his radio was going and I heard him say “It’s a DV, we’ll be a few minutes and we’ll go to the next job”. And I thought – thanks a lot, that’s my life.”

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about domestic violence. If anyone in the police is unsure about that, they should heed Tom Winsor’s words: “Domestic abuse is volume crime and violent crime.”

It is hardly surprising Tom Winsor comes to the opinion he does. However, reading his report and recognising the clarity of his recommendations for improvement, two further issues emerge.

Firstly, those who said appointing somebody from outside the police to be Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary would make the sky fall in have been proved conclusively wrong. This report gathers together evidence from a wide range of people and bodies. The result is a case for change that is robust, accurate and – fundamentally – completely independent. No punches are pulled because no past relationships are at stake.

Secondly, his distribution of tasks amongst forces, Police & Crime Commissioners and the College of Policing demonstrates the impact of the Home Secretary’s Police Reform Programme.

There is now a distinct separation of bodies responsible for delivering police and victim support services. Each has been given clear direction about the part they need to play and a timetable for action that must take place. There is no room for manoeuvre, no opportunity to defend poor practice, no hiding place for those who fail to respond.

Victims of domestic violence have been let down for too long. It’s time to put that right. In commissioning this inspection by Tom Winsor, Theresa May has done us all a favour. It’s time for Chief Constables, Police and Crime Commissioners and the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that people in desperate need of support get a far more effective service.

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