THOUSANDS of domestic violence victims are being failed by police forces across England and Wales due to alarming and unacceptable weaknesses in the way cases are investigated, inspectors have found.

In a damning report, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said only eight out of the 43 forces responded well to domestic abuse and the most vulnerable victims faced a lottery in the way their complaints were handled.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said: "Domestic abuse casts a terrible blight on the lives of very many people, and can have tragic consequences.

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"In too many police forces we found there were serious weaknesses in services, which are putting victims at unnecessary and avoidable risk."

In the North, Durham Police was found to be providing a good service to victims of domestic abuse, with staff demonstrating a “high level of commitment and awareness”.

While inspectors found that both Cleveland and North Yorkshire forces were conducting “effective work” but there were “areas for improvement”.

HM Inspector of Constabulary for the Northern Region, Roger Baker said the North Yorkshire force made good use of police community safety officers to support victims of domestic abuse, but not all victims were receiving the support and access to services they needed, due to an inconsistent approach to risk assessment.

He said there were no processes in place to identify serial perpetrators, or to try and prevent future offending behaviour.

Assistant Chief Constable with North Yorkshire Police, Paul Kennedy said: “It is good to see that the dedicated work and the improvements we have made in our response to these distressing crimes has been recognised.

“We acknowledge that there are areas for improvement and prior to the inspection, we had identified a number of areas where the service could be improved and have already taken steps to implement these changes.”

The police force said the report recognised its recent investment in its Protecting Vulnerable Persons Units (PVPUs) and training for staff, overseen by Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Mason.

HMIC found all three forces successful in identifying victims of domestic abuse when receiving calls and ensuring an appropriate response. Domestic abuse accounted for roughly a third of all assaults resulting in injury dealt with by the region’s police.

Domestic violence and abuse is defined as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse” and can include psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse.

Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, said: “Victim focussed policing is absolutely fundamental to our police service.  Domestic abuse is one of the most impactive of crimes, and on behalf of the public of North Yorkshire, I need to make sure North Yorkshire Police are dealing with these incidents effectively.

“There is a huge amount of good practice in North Yorkshire, but there is also a clear need to refocus efforts on the victims of these terrible crimes. 

“In light of the HMIC report’s findings, it is now important the Chief Constable prepares an action plan to improve performance.  Prevention is key, and it is clear the police service needs to do more to ensure serial perpetrators of domestic abuse are appropriately dealt with.

“HMIC’s new checklist will be a valuable tool in holding the Chief Constable to account on behalf of victims. 

"More generally we need to look to the College of Policing to find a way for victims of domestic abuse to feel able to come forward quicker, as well as drive up national standards."

Deputy Chief Constable of Cleveland Police Iain Spittal said that while the HMIC report "paints a bleak picture of how the police service nationally deals with domestic abuse", he was encouraged by the findings during the inspection in Cleveland.

“Specifically highlighted are the good systems in place for call handlers and dispatchers to identify victims, the specialist team providing services to high risk and some medium risk victims of domestic abuse and the organisational effectiveness for keeping people safe," he said.

“We take a proactive approach to domestic abuse, which is reflected in our high arrest rate, and our officers, staff and police partner staff are aware it is a priority for both the Force and Commissioner.

“We know that we still need to carry out some more detailed work to improve knowledge, training and understanding of specific issues raised by the HMIC to ensure we improve our service further to victims of domestic abuse.

"We will be carefully considering the report’s recommendations.”

Cleveland's Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger added: “Domestic abuse is a key priority for me, and over the coming year I will be working closely with both Durham and Northumbria PCCs on the Violence Against Women and Girls regional strategy.

“Cleveland has made progress and I will be working with the Force closely to look at the recommendations from the report – however it is clear we need to see further action to deliver improvements to victims of domestic abuse, and I will be scrutinising the performance in this area intently.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "We have been warning the Home Secretary for the last three years that action against domestic abuse has deteriorated.

"This report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate is important, but as a response from Government to the problem of domestic violence it simply isn't enough.

"Victims of domestic violence are being badly let down, and too many abusers are getting away with horrible crimes."

She added: "We need answers from the Home Secretary about why things are getting so much worse and what she will do to improve action by the police, prosecution and support services too."