Scale of domestic violence worries IPCC chief in Wales

Sasha Jones, Joanna Michael, Bobbie Stokoe and Karen McGraw all lost their lives to domestic abuse within the same month in 2009

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Two women a week are killed by their current or former partners in Wales and England, a conference in Cardiff has heard.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission and the four Welsh police forces are hosting the event to learn lessons in tackling domestic abuse.

It is a direct response to four high profile domestic violence murders which happened in Wales in one month in 2009.

The IPCC's head in Wales said the scale was a "major tragedy" for the country.

Gwent Police Chief Constable Carmel Napier said: "We are all accountable."

The conference at the Park Plaza Hotel follows the high-profile IPCC investigations instigated after the deaths of Bobbie Stokoe, Joanna Michael, Sasha Jones and Karen McGraw.

All women were killed by a former or current partner or relative and all had been in contact with the police before they were murdered.

During the course of the investigations the IPCC uncovered common failings in how each of the cases were handled and made recommendations to each of the four Welsh police forces.

Immediate changes to operational systems were made but IPCC Commissioner for Wales Tom Davies said the event should be about learning from their deaths and creating a legacy to make sure the mistakes were not repeated.

Case study

Danielle, 32, from Newport, nearly died at the hands of her abusive husband of eight years.

The abuse started six months into the relationship and saw her being pushed and shoved while pregnant, strangled until she lost consciousness and having her foot trodden on until it nearly broke.

She managed to flee to a refuge with her four children but found it unbearable and her partner eventually persuaded her to come back.

He then carried out an assault which left her in intensive care with a ruptured spleen and led to his conviction and jail sentence.

She said: "People need to know that if they go and ask for help like change in council housing, or victim support, they will get it.

"If that had happened for me I would have been able to get out and find a space for myself and my children before the violence escalated.

"There are so many things that stop women from leaving- money, a lack of housing, the children.

"I lost everything and had to start again and I think much more could be done to help you at that point."

He said: "It's a major tragedy for this country that there is suffering on this scale, whether it is immediate flashes of violence or longer-term suffering.

"Joanna Michael, Bobbie Stokoe, Karen McGraw and Sasha Jones were four women, living in Wales, each killed by a violent or abusive partner or relative.

"This is the first time in Wales that the IPCC and police service have put together a joint event to improve policing.

"I believe that this innovative way to build on the lessons from these four tragic deaths will prove a fitting memorial to each of these women."

The conference involved workshops with police officers, members of the Crown Prosecution Service and experts from the health service as well as the bosses of charities which support victims of domestic abuse in all aspects of their lives.

Mrs Napier, who is also the Acpo lead on domestic abuse for all forces across Wales and England, said she believes Wales has the will to make a change but that attitudes in society need a complete overhaul:

Statistics for England and Wales

  • One incident of domestic violence is reported every minute
  • On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
  • In 2008/2009 domestic violence accounted for 14% of all reported violent incidents to the police.
  • Domestic violence had more repeat victims than any other crime, with repeat victims accounting for 66% of all incidents and 21% of victims having been victimised three or more times
  • In 2007/2008, nearly 1m women experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse each year.
  • In 2010 the number of women convicted for the abuse of men doubled
  • Welsh Women's Aid estimate that 150,000 children and young people are affected by domestic abuse in Wales at any one time
  • The cost of dealing with domestic abuse in England and Wales every year is about £5.7bn

"There's that awful phrase - 'It's just a domestic', something everybody has heard and there is that tendency to shy away from it.

"Society is changing but the issue for us is about learning to work collectively but it's also about accountability - we are all accountable."

She added that timely intervention was key as violence often escalates and that can lead to tragedy.

In Newport, Gwent Police has driven a pilot where all the relevant agencies sit in on a daily conference call to discuss the steps needed immediately to help victims and their families.

These conference calls can deal with immediate practical issues like what to do with the perpetrator, the children, how to mobilise social services and housing as well as victim support.

The plan is to roll the system out to the whole of Gwent from July with the hope of spreading it to every force in Wales by the autumn.

Last month an investigation by the BBC revealed the number of women convicted of domestic violence in England and Wales has more than doubled in the past five years

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