Appalling statistics lift lid on domestic violence in the Fylde

Four in five domestic violence reports end with no police charges
Four in five domestic violence reports end with no police charges
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Fewer than a fifth of domestic abuse incidents reported to police led to a charge or summons, The Gazette can reveal today.

Lancashire Police recorded 5,265 domestic abuse related incidents in the six months between July 1 and December 31 last year.

But figures in a Freedom of Information disclosure show only 954 were charged or summonsed to court, with a further 253 perpetrators were given cautions.

One Blackpool domestic violence victim today said: “Taking your abuser to court is traumatic. But you need to have the confidence to do it.”

Rachel Horman, domestic abuse lawyer and campaigner, today said: “It’s absolutely appalling. The response to domestic violence and stalking seems to be getting worse rather than better.”

A mum, who fled to a refuge in the county to escape her abuser, has revealed her frustration that the offences against her predated new laws to protect victims – meaning her ex-husband won’t be charged. Police said 504 of the cases were closed as there was no line of enquiry to follow.

A Lancashire Police spokesman reiterated the force could only secure charges on CPS advice. He said: “We are committed to securing justice for all victims of crimes of this type and we will continue to work closely with partners like the Crown Prosecution Service in order to achieve that.

“Officers and staff of Lancashire Constabulary are trained to deal with all reports of Domestic Abuse in the most appropriate manner.

“Anybody can be affected by domestic abuse and anyone can be an abuser. It doesn’t just happen to women – men can be and are victims too, whether their partner is a man or woman. Abuse is a control issue – abusers believe they have the right to manipulate, control and humiliate another person.

“We hope victims will continue to come forward and report these crimes to police safe in the knowledge we will deal with them professionally and sensitively.”

However, the CPS today said the police were responsible for investigating offences and deciding if there is enough evidence to refer a case to them to charge a person.

A spokesman said: “The police are responsible for investigating offences, diverting offenders (including cautioning offenders), charging and referring certain categories of cases to CPS. Where a police decision maker considers there may be sufficient evidence to charge a suspect in a domestic abuse case, the matter should be referred to CPS to determine if a suspect should be charged.

“A prosecutor must then determine whether there is sufficient evidence and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute a suspect. Police officers can issue a simple caution without reference to the CPS in many cases, although prosecutors may be asked for advice on the suitability of using a simple caution disposal at any time and when a case is considered by a prosecutor they can recommend to the police that a caution is appropriate.

“In domestic abuse cases referred to CPS in Lancashire between 1 July 2016 and 31 December 2016 for a charging decision a prosecutor recommended a caution in 0.45% of cases, that is out of a total of 1,348 domestic abuse cases a prosecutor recommended a caution in six cases.”

Rachel Horman, chairman of Paladdin National Stalking Advocacy Service, said: “The response to domestic violence and stalking seems to be getting worse rather than better.

“There seems to be a culture of complacency with some officers and if we are not careful we will be back in a situation we were in in the 1970s when domestic violence was seen as a private matter that should not involve the police.

“Lancashire Constabulary have done good work in improving that response to domestic violence however this seems to be deteriorating and is something is highlighted in the FOI request and that I am very concerned about.

“Cautions should rarely be used in DV cases and the reason case’s don’t continue is often because victims say that they do not feel supported by the police. “The police often seem to put the victims off pressing charges when in reality they decision should never be with the victim and should be taken by the police and crime prosecution service

“The police are currently being audited by HMIC in relation to their response to stalking and I expect that this will highlight the terrible service generally being given to stalking victims as well as domestic violence victims.”

The figures emerge as the Sentencing Council publishes proposed new guidelines for how people convicted of intimidatory offences and offences involving domestic abuse should be sentenced.

It is launching a consultation until June about intimidatory offences guideline covering harassment, stalking, disclosing private sexual images, controlling or coercive behaviour, and threats to kill.

The domestic abuse guideline covers all offences which occur within a domestic context such as assault, sexual offences or criminal damage.

Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice McGowan said: “These offences can be particularly sensitive and distressing, leading to very significant harm to victims.

“The new guidelines we are proposing will help ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of these offences and take into account the increases in sentence levels for stalking and harassment introduced by Parliament.”

The Council’s aim in introducing the guidelines, which are now subject to public consultation, is to provide consistent and comprehensive guidance for judges and magistrates in sentencing these related offences. It is the first time guidelines have been produced for stalking, and for the offences of disclosing private sexual images and controlling or coercive behaviour, which have both come into force in recent years.

The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship also came into force in 2015, aiming to provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse. Coercive and controlling behaviour can include the abuser preventing their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money and determining many aspects of their everyday life, such as when/what they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet.

The guideline aims to reflect the nature of such offending and the types of impact the offences can have on victims to ensure an effective and consistent approach to sentencing. The Council is also introducing a guideline covering stalking and harassment. It is the first time a guideline for stalking has been produced, and sentencing guidance for harassment offences is being expanded significantly to provide comprehensive guidelines.

Current guidance for harassment offences, along with that for threats to kill, is very limited and applies only to magistrates’ courts.

The Council is updating the existing guideline covering domestic violence to reflect expert thinking and societal attitudes over the past decade.

There is no specific offence of domestic abuse – it can be a feature of many offences and the guideline aims to ensure that it is properly taken into account.

Previously, guidelines stated offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those non-domestic, whereas the new guideline emphasises that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious. They recognise these offences can affect women and men of all backgrounds and remind sentencers to take care to avoid stereotypical assumptions. The guidelines reflect recent legislative changes that doubled the maximum sentences for stalking and harassment from five years to ten.

CASE STUDY

Before she met Nathan Lightowler, Tasha Wilcock was a confident young woman.

But the warning signs of her abusive new boyfriend were there from the start.

Little by little, her controlling ex belittled and insulted her.

And within a matter of weeks his behaviour became violent.

The 20-year-old was subjected to a string of attacks, including being throttled at the hands of the man who supposed to love her.

And such was his hold over her, she says she was not going to proceed with charges against him - until police and domestic violence workers revealed a history of abuse under a Clare’s Law disclosure.

Brave Tasha became one of very few victims in Lancashire to take her attacker to court - but even after a successful prosecution Lightowler, from Bispham, escaped with a suspended jail term.

The bar worker said: “I was fuming at his sentence, but even though I was bitterly disappointed I would still urge victims to press ahead with a prosecution.

“Taking your abuser to court is traumatic. But you need to have the confidence to do it.

“The main thing for me now is that anyone Googling his name will know what he did and other women will be warned.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore. “

“For me the abuse started early in our relationship.

“At first I thought I didn’t want to go through with the prosecution and was going to fight his corner - that was part of being under the power of his abuse.

“But I was given a Clare Law’s disclosure.

“A police officer came out to me with a Safenet worker to tell me. Once I found out it wasn’t a one off I knew I had to act.

“It saved my life I’d say.”

Lightowler, a former youth project volunteer, was given a 16 week sentence suspended for a year.

He was also sentenced to up to 30 days rehabilitation to be supervised by the probation service and ordered to pay £100 compensation with £115 victims’ surcharge.

He was also placed on a two year restraining order.

Tasha recalls: “At first I was absolutely livid.

“I sat in court for his sentencing.

“I was just appalled. I wondered after everything I put myself through was it worth it?

“ I spiralled into depression, and took a couple of months off work. I really thought it couldn’t get worse.

“Abusers make you fell like you need them and can’t cope without them.

“But now I’m moving on and I want to stress to other victims that things do get better.

“I’d still encourage them to pursue their abuser through the courts but warn them not to get their hopes up about sentencing. I hope the new sentencing guidelines that come into force will make a difference in the future.

Tasha spoke as alarming figures show less than a fifth of alleged perpetrators in the county are charged or summonsed to court, with 273 cautioned instead.

“The amount of abusers getting cautions is horrible, I don’t understand how it can be - people get more for nicking cars than almost killing someone.

“How can this be justified?

• Anyone affected by this story can call police on 101 or Preston Domestic Violence Services on 01772 201601.