Open letter from Chief Constable to Councillor Emily Spurrell

Statement on unexplained death of woman in Fazakerley

Dear Emily,

I wanted to update you all after receiving your letter of 16 March calling for the force to treat misogyny as a hate crime.

As you will be aware the force was awaiting the release later this year of recommendations from the Law Commission in relation to this, but the Government has now confirmed that from this autumn (we are still awaiting confirmation of a date) misogyny will be treated as a hate crime by police. As a result Merseyside Police, along with forces across the country, will record and identify any crimes of violence, including stalking and sexual offences, where the victim is believed to have been targeted with hostility based on their gender.

Throughout the last two weeks, following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, we have listened to the outpouring of grief and anger from women because of their experiences of violence, abuse or harassment and the fear many suffer as a result.

As a force we are committed to working with our communities and partners to tackle violence against women and girls, and we need to continue to work together as a collective to make this work.

This is a societal issue, which we all know cannot be resolved by policing alone and we need to work together to drive behavioural change and make our streets safer for women, who should be empowered to live their lives without fear of sexual objectification, harassment, or physical and mental abuse.

We need a public health approach in relation to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and a regional strategy that encompasses all those organisations (public sector and third sector) who can help us to make our communities safer.

We will continue to work with women who are subjected to stalking or harassment, violent abuse, or any other crimes based on their gender, together with our partners, so we can identify offenders and make the streets safer for women who live and work in our communities.

More victims of rape, domestic abuse and stalking and harassment now have the confidence to report to the police. If someone experiences violence or abuse they should be confident to report it to us. We are here to help. We will take it seriously, we will investigate and if a crime has been committed we will do all we can to help victims get justice. We know we need the support of all partners to achieve this and provide the best support possible for victims and their families.

Nationally, the police service has contributed to, and is waiting on the outcomes of the cross-Government rape review, which has been working to understand and address the reasons behind falling rape prosecutions across the country. In the interim, the National Police Chiefs’ Council are implementing a Joint National Action Plan with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). It includes action to improve support for victims, help officers build strong cases from the outset and increase the knowledge and expertise of our officers and staff. There are promising signs as the referrals of rape to the CPS are starting to rise.

Despite the ongoing pandemic our commitment has not faltered. If you look at domestic abuse alone, this year the force has continued to tackle this issue as follows:

  • The force chairs the Strategic Domestic Violence and Abuse Group (SDVAG) quarterly meeting which includes representation from key strategic partners including Local Authority Community Safety Partnership Leads, Police, Crown Prosecution Service, National Probation Service, HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service), Health, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Services, Merseyside Criminal Justice Board, OPCC and third sector services. Together the group is working to ensure that fully integrated systems are in place across Merseyside to tackle domestic violence and abuse, meet the needs of victims, address the behaviour of perpetrators, reduce victimisation and increase the confidence of the victims to come forward.
  • The force also continues to chair the Domestic Abuse Multi-Agency Tactical Group and again includes key partners such as IDVA managers, Police, Crown Prosecution Service, National Probation Service, HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service), Health, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Services, Merseyside Criminal Justice Board and the OPCC.
  • Similarly the force continues to chair the Pan-Merseyside MARAC steering group which provides strategic governance and quality assurance to the Merseyside MARAC process to reduce harm to high risk victims of domestic abuse.
  • Merseyside Police has continued to police domestic abuse throughout the pandemic, maintaining normal practices of emergency response, positive action and safeguarding. Merseyside initially saw a reduction in domestic abuse incidents and crimes, despite the National Domestic Abuse helpline and media reporting a 45-50% increase. As a result the partnership responded by meeting weekly via the Strategic Domestic Violence and Abuse Group meeting structure to focus on:
  • Domestic abuse performance across Merseyside.
  • Ensuring sufficient refuge provision across Merseyside.
  • Developing a co-ordinated and comprehensive pan-Merseyside marketing and media strategy.
  • Seeking to establish whether there has been sufficient support services in place for victims to access during lockdown, an area we know is rightly being discussed. Merseyside Police are working with local partners and have commissioned academic research into establishing where there is unmet need for victims and the extent of demand for services that is not being met.
  • Obtaining regular updates from the Crown Prosecution Service and HMCTS in relation to domestic abuse trials.
  • Considering recovery after lockdown and planning for anticipated increase in demand. Tactics to be implemented included those previously employed during periods of higher demand, including the use of the DVEC (Domestic Violence Enforcement Car) and Named Offender arrest days.
  • SDVAG has been supported by more frequent tactical Multi Agency Domestic Abuse meetings, ensuring that any issues at a tactical level, were fed into SDVAG. The tactical group brought together Local Authority Community Safety Partnership Leads, commissioned support services, HMCTS, CPS, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service and Merseyside Police departments. The group highlighted some key issues, for example, the lack of target hardening services during lockdown for victims of domestic abuse, which was resolved with the offer of assistance from the Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service.
  • Whilst the Safer Merseyside Partnership has been put on hold because of the impact of COVID-19 and the transition in May to a new PCC, work has been ongoing to strengthen the vulnerability partnership across Merseyside. Working with the OPCC and Chief Executives a revised structure has been agreed and in April, a Strategic Vulnerability Meeting will take place. This will see SDVAG, Strategic MACE, the Honour Based Abuse and Harmful Practices Group and the Sexual Violence Strategic Group meetings all take place within the same governance structure. This will allow us to identify the common issues within the VAWG agenda that cut across victims, families and communities and inform and influence some of the higher level strategic issues such as commissioning decisions and the role of public health.
  • Bi-weekly Merseyside Criminal Justice Board meetings, and Mersey/Cheshire Criminal Justice Service meetings have had regular updates from Criminal Justice, CPS and the HMCTS in relation to the court position during lockdown. The CPS and HMCTS ensured that domestic abuse victims were identified as priority cases and that cases were subject to triage for listing. Domestic abuse trials continued to take place, resulting in convictions, and the CPS and HMCTS continue to explore ways to allow victims of domestic abuse to give evidence remotely, including bringing agencies together to discuss possible buildings that could be used by victims to give evidence remotely. However, there is an increasing backlog of trials caused by the adjournment of existing trials and ‘normal business’ creating new cases daily. A Merseyside Recovery Group was formed to review the workflow process to take action to progress more trials. To support this, the Criminal Justice Witness Care Unit have maintained regular contact with victims of domestic abuse keeping them updated to try to reduce victim attrition.
  • Merseyside Police has continued to hold regular internal Protecting Vulnerable Persons (PVP) performance meetings, monitoring reporting and performance of domestic abuse across all strands of policing from the initial call handling, through to deployment and finally to investigation and outcomes for domestic abuse crimes. As a result of increased domestic abuse crimes being reported to us, we have ensured more investigative staff have been moved into specialist departments, supported by the increase in uplift in national policing resources.
  • A pan-Merseyside Marketing & Media Strategy was agreed by all partner agencies. Crime Prevention leaflets were sent to 125,000 homes and businesses across Merseyside to provide national and local support services contact details for victims of domestic abuse and to highlight that support from the police and independent support services was available during lockdown. The leaflets also highlighted the 999 system and the use of the ‘double 5 digit and noise system’ if the victim was unable to speak. The marketing strategy was regularly reviewed throughout the pandemic and, following survivor feedback was updated with reassurance to victims that it was ‘never too late to report a crime or to seek support following lockdown’.
  • On 25th November 2020, to coincide with White Ribbon Day and 16 days of Action to end Violence Against Women and Girls, Merseyside Police joined together with domestic abuse support services and a domestic abuse survivor to use social media platforms, namely Facebook and Instagram, to hold two on-line surgeries. This enabled members of the public to take part in a question and answer session and to be involved in discussions with professionals including police, domestic abuse support services and a survivor of domestic abuse. The intention was to raise awareness and promote reporting (either crimes or intelligence) around domestic abuse. The online event was really successful in communicating key messages especially around the domestic abuse support available for victims throughout COVID lockdown from the police and local and national support services.
  • The force regularly monitors the number of Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) authorised in force, and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) granted by the courts, which continued throughout the COVID pandemic. Merseyside’s position has remained unchanged at 30 to 40 DVPOs granted per month on average. Since March 2020 (start of lockdown) until 5th March 2021, Merseyside Police has issued 423 DVPNs and has been granted 419 DVPOs by the courts. There have been 84 breaches of DVPOs in this period. The Force is consistently one of the highest in the country in terms of issuing Domestic Violence Disclosure Notices to inform victims that they are living with males who have previous convictions for violence, to help work with them regarding their own safety.
  • During November and December 2020, the force delivered an internal campaign to improve the quality of Domestic Abuse investigations, with particular emphasis on Evidence Led Prosecutions. There were four ‘Evidence Led Prosecution and Learning from a Domestic Homicide Review’ CPD events in November and December 2020, which included an input from the District Crown Prosecutor. The two hour CPD events covered the areas of domestic homicide reviews, voice of a survivor, barriers to reporting, key learning from a high profile Merseyside Domestic Homicide Review, evidence gathering including hearsay statements and use of body worn video, Res Gestae, presenting the case, Evidence Led Prosecutions/legal issues from the CPS perspective, ancillary orders to protect victims of domestic abuse and an Evidence Led Prosecution case study. The events were aimed at all front line staff and investigators and were designed to raise awareness around domestic abuse, learning from domestic homicides and the consideration for Evidence Led Prosecutions, in cases where the victim did not support a prosecution. The training events highlighted that it was the Criminal Justice Agency’s responsibility to bring perpetrators of domestic abuse to justice, not the victims. The drive around Evidence Led Prosecutions has continued and intensified during lockdown and now includes a regular DCI review of domestic abuse NFA decisions, to ensure an Evidence Led Prosecution has been considered. The Police Decision Makers (PDMs), who triage cases prior to submission to CPS for a charging decision, now maintain a database of all case which are considered for Evidence Led Prosecutions. Since November 2019 to 5th March 2021, 252 DA Evidence Led Prosecution cases have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, 124 (49%) of which were charged, 116 (46%) were resulted as No Further Action, 7 (3%) resulted in a caution and 5 cases (2%) are awaiting a response. Of the 124 charged, 76 have resulted in successful convictions (61%), 21 (17%) have not yet been heard and 27 (22%) have been dismissed with no evidence offered.

Sadly, despite the significant amount of work that is being done by all agencies, three women were tragically murdered on Merseyside in just one week at the end of January/beginning of February this year. Arrests have been made in respect of each of these cases and they are currently going through the courts so I can’t say too much about the individual cases, however, this highlights the importance of us working together to provide victims with support and to give them confidence to seek help at the earliest opportunity so we can reduce the potential of them suffering from further violence.

There has been some negative media reporting in relation to the police service as a whole and on social media, which has the propensity to undermine all the good work that is being undertaken here on Merseyside. We must ensure as a partnership that we provide confidence to victims to come forward and be proud of the service we offer whilst identifying gaps in service that we need to fill. Protecting vulnerable people has been at the top of my priorities whilst leading this force working closely with the PCC Jane Kennedy to put the communities first in all we do. I know that the force response to tackling Violence Against Women and Girls is led with passion and dedication from the top by ACC Ian Critchley, Superintendent Sue Coombs and DCI Bev Hyland, and the commitment they have shown is replicated across their teams.

The vast majority of police officers who work for Merseyside Police live here and joined the police because they want to make a positive difference in their communities and keep the public safe. My staff and our partners do this every single day, protecting victims and bringing offenders to justice, but we will continue to learn and strive to improve in all we do. We all want to achieve the same thing and we need to work together to a comprehensive regional strategy which puts the victim first.

As you know I will be leaving the force in April and my current Deputy, Serena Kennedy, will be taking over as Chief Constable. Serena is passionate about building on our current Community First strategy and I know she will continue to drive our response to Violence Against Women and Girls with ACC Critchley. I am sure you will provide her with co-operation, support and understanding as you work together to drive behavioural change to make Merseyside a safer place for the women who live and work here.

Yours sincerely,

Andy Cooke QPM

Chief Constable

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