"Domestic abuse is everyone's problem" - police mission takes on pervasive crime

Helen Murphy and Det Supt Paul Goundry, safeguarding unit at Aykley Heads police headquarters in Durham

Helen Murphy and Det Supt Paul Goundry, safeguarding unit at Aykley Heads police headquarters in Durham

First published in Leader
Last updated

“You can’t stereotype victims,” explains Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry. “Some can’t leave because it’s what they know; they know that on a Friday night after their partner has had a few beers they bear the brunt of it. The alternative is leaving the family home, having no security and no money if they’re depending on their partner for it.”

The senior detective is explaining just why domestic abuse is a complex crime to tackle; requiring the involvement not just of the long arm of the law, but the far-reach of countless other services.

“It goes back to how can the police force unpick that? We have to have our outreach services; they might need information on where to get a solicitor, legal aid advice, housing advice...”

Helen Murphy, who is Durham Constabulary’s strategic coordinator for Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse, agrees. She says it requires more than a police response to an emergency call:

“The biggest strength we have in Durham is all the agencies working together and we have really good leaders who really get what domestic abuse is - that it’s not just one contact with the victims - that it’s often going to be a long-term involvement with the victims, gaining their trust and spending a long time dealing with the perpetrator.”

She added: “Personally, I think domestic abuse is everybody’s problem.”

It’s one of the reasons why - when a report into how the nation’s 43 police forces were handling domestic abuse dealt out some damning verdicts - some felt privately some of the criticisms from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) were unfair. That they were carrying the can for a whole host of agencies involved in tackling domestic abuse; from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), to housing providers and social services.

Durham Constabulary was one of a handful of forces in the county to be praised for providing a “good service” to victims. Most of the rest were told their response was “not good enough” and to take decisive action to rectify it.

Domestic abuse accounts for a considerable proportion of overall crime; according to HMIC it costs society an estimated £15.7 billion a year and in 2012/13 an estimated 77 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners. It accounts for one third of all recorded assaults resulting in injury.

Police in Durham and Darlington receive more than 13,000 calls relating to domestic abuse each year.

Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry is the safeguarding lead for Durham Constabulary and sits on the national domestic abuse forum for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

He says in addition to pursuing a criminal conviction against perpetrators in court, through the CPS, they have a large range of other policing powers and legislation to take on domestic abusers.

“Often they get a jail sentence. If they don’t, we target them. There are civil orders that allow us to put restrictions on them, or just knock on their door and tell them “you’re a target for us and we’re watching you”. We have quite a tool kit,” says the senior detective.

Every officer in Durham Constabulary receives domestic abuse training and each shift and beat team has a safe-guarding champion with expert knowledge.

All police forces were recently given new powers to disclose to a partner’s violent past under Clare’s Law, the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.

It allows a partner of someone suspected of domestic abuse, or their friend or relative to ask police for information. Officers can also volunteer the information to those they want to protect.

The legislation was introduced in response to the murder of Salford mother Clare Wood. She was killed by her estranged partner, who, unknown to her, had a history of violence against women.

“Everything might be hunky-dory and then an officer knocks on their door and tells them their partner is a known domestic abuser,” explains Det Supt Goundry.

“We do that because we want to give that information to their partner before they become entrenched in a relationship with children, housing, and finances. Where they can, officers will disclose various information to the victim; they might inform them, “they start with hair-pulling and then move on to this behaviour” and it starts to click.”

Despite receiving praise from its recent HMIC inspection, Det Supt Groundry says it would be unwise for them to be complacent about their approach.

“One thing we need to do is listen to victims and do some professional, accredited work around victims’ voices.

“We’re working with Durham University on this and it’s a massive piece of research. We’re speaking to hundreds of victims of domestic abuse and then re-evaluating all our training and putting the victim even more at the centre of what we’re doing.

“If we have to train the whole force as a result of that accredited work, then we’ll train the whole force; that’s the level of commitment we have to this.”

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