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Policing watchdogs’ super-complaint on police-perpetrated domestic abuse a “missed opportunity”

Image of a crime scene and police tape.

Dame Vera Baird QC said the report's conclusions "fall short" as she continued to press for the establishment of a national policing protocol.

The Victims’ Commissioner has described the response to a policing super-complaint on police-perpetrated domestic abuse (PPDA) as “a missed opportunity”.

Dame Vera Baird said when an allegation is made against an officer it should be sent immediately to an external force to investigate it independently.

The super-complaint follows long-standing and extensive work in this area from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, to which Dame Vera has contributed. Dame Vera also worked with the BBC’s File on 4 last year.

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:

“There can be fewer greater and more fundamental breaches of duty, trust and police oaths than police perpetrated domestic abuse (PPDA).

“Police have a unique position of power in our society. When officers are sworn in as constables, they promise to serve the public and do no harm. Yet in recent years, police leaders have been accused of a failure to act against officers facing allegations of domestic abuse. Today’s super-complaint analyses police performance and identifies clear and alarming failings in how police respond to these cases. Disappointingly, the inspectors’ recommendations fall short in a number of areas and I fear this is yet another missed opportunity to truly reform policing in the public interest.

“We know there are systemic weaknesses in the police response to domestic abuse. As today’s report makes clear, this is also true of police perpetrated domestic abuse. Forces are routinely failing to treat PPDA allegations as police complaints and misconduct matters. Worse still, forces are frequently failing to refer cases to the IOPC – a clear and gross dereliction of duty.

“Inspectors found misconduct hearings are not being carried out when they should be and, on the occasions when they do occur, they are not nearly as robust as they should be. Indeed, so few allegations were handled as a police complaint and conduct matter that inspectors did not have enough data to estimate the number of PPDA allegations that result in misconduct outcomes. These are fundamental shortcomings that must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

“Inspectors also revealed that victim safety is not given nearly enough consideration. Forces must always be able to provide assurance and demonstrate that all risks are managed. Yet inspectors found evidence of victims saying that police officers had used their knowledge, status and powers to intimidate victims and deter them from making a report to the police. Cases were also closed when victims withdrew their support with no further action taken to safeguard the victim. And case files frequently omitted formal declaration of ‘conflict of interests’ records, leaving it unclear whether or how those working on the case knew the victim or the suspect. These failings risk not only victim safety but overall trust in policing.

“So, it is disappointing that in the face of these clear, pressing issues, the inspectors’ conclusions fall short. With so many issues at play, I don’t see how inspectors can conclude the police response to PPDA to be “generally good”. The recommendations are a missed opportunity: convoluted in nature and lacking any concerted action for the here and now. Instead, we have promises of reviews, audits and inspections. Yet the issues are clear and the solutions even clearer.

“Police leaders must set up a national policing protocol to make inter-force arrangements with external forces. When a domestic abuse allegation is made against an officer, it should immediately be sent to an external force to independently investigate. That is the only way to ensure a good investigation. All the evidence suggests that the accused’s force will not be able to investigate its own officers effectively and independently. This is a clear and unambiguous national solution to a policing issue of national significance.

“It is of vital importance that forces respond robustly and dispassionately when domestic abuse allegations are made against serving police officers and staff. We have seen only too recently and painfully how abusive behaviours can manifest when left unchallenged and in uniform. The police must never be a safe space for abusers. We must see zero-tolerance to abusive behaviours from all forces as a minimum expectation – not an aspiration. That requires national leadership. That requires clear, unambiguous action across all forces – in other words, a national policing protocol.”