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Sat 23 October 2021

Data from the Independent Office of Police Conduct raises questions about the safeguarding of women known to be experiencing violence by partners

A staggering 114 women have been killed following previous police contact that was classed as domestic-related since 2010, a Freedom of Information request to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has found.

The majority of domestic homicides involve a woman being killed by a current or former partner. 

Police contact includes deaths that follow contact with the police, either directly or indirectly, that did not involve arrest or detention under the Mental Health Act 1983, and were subject to an IOPC independent investigation. Deaths investigated include cases involving a history of domestic violence that the police were already aware of.

Of the 114 deaths revealed by the FOI request, 105 led to an independent investigation by the IOPC.

The stark statistic poses another challenge to the narrative that domestic homicides are ‘isolated incidents’. Although this term has a specific meaning in police investigations – that a killer is not a danger to the wider public – it has been criticised by feminist activists who argue that it masks a pattern of violent behaviour that often leads up to a woman’s murder. 


The Cries for Help

Earlier this year, the New York Times journalist Jane Bradley reported on the case of Daniela Espirito Santo, who died after waiting on hold for the police to help her. It was the seventh time that she had reported her boyfriend Julio Jesus to the police for his violent behaviour. 

The police had briefly taken Jesus into custody before releasing him. After Espirito Santo’s death, he was convicted of manslaughter and released after 10 months in prison. 

The IOPC investigated the handling of Espirito Santo’s death by the Lincolnshire police force, noting a “haphazard” response and officers sympathetic to Jesus. Responding to one incident on Christmas Day in which Jesus grabbed Espirito Santo’s face so hard that she said that she was struggling to breathe, the police noted that the couple had “communication issues”.

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In 2019, the Metropolitan Police issued an apology for its response to the killing, six years earlier, of Linah Keza. The 30-year-old woman was stabbed by her former partner David Gikawa, who was sentenced to 21 years in prison for murder. 

The Met apologised for failing to provide “the highest quality of service that our public have the right to expect”. Before her death, Keza was being stalked by Gikawa. When he turned up at her house, she called the police who assessed her risk as “medium” and appeared to disregard the significance of the threats made against her. 

A three-year long IOPC investigation found that the officers investigating her case were found to have breached standards of professional behaviour and were found guilty of gross misconduct. They received a final written warning, meaning that they remained in post. 

The Met was also criticised for how it responded in the run-up to the murder of Donna Williamson by her former partner Kevin O’Regan in 2016. An inquest found that the unit responsible for monitoring the safety of domestic violence victims failed to properly investigate her case. The jury at the inquest identified “systemic issues” that led to missed opportunities to eliminate the risk to Reed’s life. 

Regan Tierney was killed by her former partner, Daniel Patten. The 29-year-old was found stabbed to death by her father, who said that when Tierney called the police in fear of her life, she was “brushed aside”. The IOPC carried out an investigation into Greater Manchester Police.

In Warwickshire, officers failed to respond to an emergency call from Luisa Mendes who was beaten to death by two men who she lived with. The Independent Police Complaints Commission conducted an investigation which led to a misconduct action taken against four officers. 

Earlier this year, the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police issued an apology for the 2013 death of Suzanne Van Hagen. There had been eight reports of domestic abuse prior to her death and police failed to make proper enquiries about marks on her neck. The investigating officer took as fact a remark from the pathologist that this was the result of a “sex game gone wrong”, however the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority later accepted that this was “a crime of violence perpetrated by” her abuser that contributed to her death.

Research conducted by Laura Richards, former head of Scotland Yard’s Homicide Prevention Unit, found that failures to investigate and tackle the past violence of 30 men allowed them to go on and kill 31 women and seriously harm at least 58 more. These include women who were suffering abuse before their deaths or who were not informed about their killer’s history of violence. 


Failures to Respond 

A speech by Vera Baird QC at a fringe event at this year’s Labour Party Conference highlighted the lack of monitoring of men who have been violent against women. She cited research by the HMIC that identified an epidemic of violence against women. It was published on the day that 28-year-old teacher Sabina Nessa was killed in her local park in south-east London.

Inspectors asked police across four forces to pick out the 10 most dangerous men to women in their force area. Of the 40 men who were dangerous to women, 34 of them had never been identified as being dangerous to women at all. “No one had earmarked these people,” Baird said. 

“The police know how to manage dangerous people,” she explained. “They have mechanisms for managing them. Do they do any of this for women? They clearly do not. They do not take out protective orders to look after women. They sometimes get women to take out their own injunctions, but when there’s a break of that – in 53 of the 83 orders that the police inspectors randomly looked at there was absolutely no action from the police at all in the breach of an order. The police didn’t recognise that this was another offence, another incident of domestic abuse.”

The failures to identify dangerous men, or to respond to such breaches of injunctions or protection orders, is therefore putting women’s safety at risk. 

During the same event, the Labour MP Ellie Reeves took aim at the Conservative Party’s Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill which, she said, fails to tackle an epidemic of male violence against women and girls. “There are more protections for statues than for women,” she said. 

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