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.”