Three in four domestic abuse cases end without charge in England and Wales

Data comes to light as part of review into police response to abuse during coronavirus pandemic

Three in four domestic abuse offences reported to the police are closed without a perpetrator being charged, a watchdog has said, amid fears the figures have worsened during the pandemic.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said forces were increasingly using two types of “outcome” to close domestic abuse cases: the first being the absence of support from the victim and the second being a lack of evidence despite having the victim’s backing to prosecute.

Zoë Billingham, the inspector of constabulary, said she was shocked that the figures, which covered the year to March 2020, were so high and appeared to be worsening.

The data came to light as part of the watchdog’s review into the policing response to domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, published on Wednesday, in which forces were largely praised for their proactive approach.

Billingham said: “It is the police’s job to build the case for the victim. In many cases it isn’t clear that forces are taking all the opportunities to undertake an effective initial investigation or that they desisted from pushing back the decision on to the victim.

“So when was the last time any of us heard of the police asking a burglary victim if they wanted the police to take action? It doesn’t happen but it happens repeatedly in crimes of domestic abuse. I am shocked that the crime closure rates are now so high and worsening and still forces still don’t have a good understanding of the reason for this.

“In my professional judgement it cannot be right that after domestic abuse crimes have been reported to the police – largely by victims but admittedly on occasion by friends or families or neighbours – but for three-quarters of these crimes to close because of so-called evidential difficulties. We are in a very difficult place in policing – there’s no other way of describing it.”

Billingham said there were wide variations between police forces in closure rates for domestic abuse incidents. In 10 forces, 80% of domestic abuse allegations were closed because of lack of evidence or lack of support from the victim to prosecute.

She said while the data covered the year to March 2020, there was no data to suggest the situation had improved during the pandemic.

HMICFRS has called on all forces to assess the closure rates for domestic abuse crimes and draw up a plan of action for improving them.

Elsewhere, the inspectorate said it was concerned about the impact of court backlogs on domestic abuse cases, which while not for the police to solve, may increase the likelihood of victims disengaging from the criminal justice process.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council ​lead for ​domestic ​abuse, the assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said: “The police response to domestic abuse has improved over recent years and that is reflected in our greater recording standards, better training for officers and better risk assessment. That said, we are constantly learning and developing, and will carefully consider the inspectorate’s findings and recommendations as we continue to get better.”

Contributor

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Domestic abuse cases abandoned too quickly when victims retreat – study
Lack of police resources cited as reason for not gathering other evidence, say inspectorates

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

23, Jan, 2020 @12:01 AM

Article image
Reported rapes in England and Wales double in four years
Prosecutors say rise suggests people more willing to report sexual attacks after recent high-profile cases but conviction rate falls

Vikram Dodd and Helena Bengtsson

12, Oct, 2016 @11:01 PM

Article image
Domestic abusers ‘weaponised’ Covid in England and Wales, study finds
Police forces urged to stay alert to ‘Covid blaming’ as an excuse or defence by suspects

Jamie Grierson Home affairs correspondent

25, Aug, 2021 @11:08 AM

Article image
Rape cases in England and Wales will be hit hard by backlog, says police chief
Exclusive: Austerity, mismanagement and ‘reckless neglect’ has left system at crisis point, says crime commissioner

Jessica Murray

06, Jun, 2021 @2:08 PM

Article image
Manchester police record 775 cases of LGBT domestic abuse
Campaigners praise force for highlighting issue, with most victims taking up support

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

10, Apr, 2018 @12:11 PM

Article image
Domestic abuse bill: what amendments are peers voting on?
Campaigners have backed changes aimed at tackling violence against women and misogyny

Jessica Elgot Deputy political editor

15, Mar, 2021 @3:36 PM

Article image
Controlling or coercive domestic abuse to risk five-year prison term
CPS given new powers to bring charges if evidence is found of repeated offences within intimate or family relationships

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

29, Dec, 2015 @12:01 AM

Article image
Police response to domestic abuse needs much more work, charities say
Warning comes as IPCC report criticises police officers involved in case of Anne-Marie Birch, who was killed by her estranged husband

Peter Walker

08, Apr, 2016 @4:08 PM

Article image
Police failing to use new law against coercive domestic abuse
Lawyers say controlling and coercive behaviour powers should be used to help victims before relationships turn violent

Amelia Hill

31, Aug, 2016 @3:34 PM

Article image
Domestic abuse should be punished more severely than non-domestic, judges told
New advice to judges says offences in domestic context are more serious because such incidents are rarely one-off

Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

30, Mar, 2017 @5:00 AM