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Lack of consistency found with domestic homicide victim suicides

The second annual report from the national Domestic Homicide Project has found disparity in the way forces treat suspected victim suicides.

Among the 40 findings related to domestic abuse and domestic homicide, the report marks the first systematic analysis in the UK of police-identified suspected victim suicides. 

It is the second annual report from the Domestic Homicide Project - a Home Office funded research project led by the NPCC and delivered by the Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme.

Some forces (none of who were identifed by name in the report) had specific guidance, such as Force 4 which included a requirement to ‘identify whether there is any history of domestic violence’.

The report further highlighted that some force representatives believed first responders completed relevant PNC and force database checks before attending a scene, and others thought the system checks were done after leaving the scene.

The Project’s ‘deep dive’ process into five forces found varied practice on which checks were completed and when, as well as disparity on whether they encompassed both crime and non-crime incidents and which national and force databases were consulted. 

Initial investigations are often paused if circumstances at the scene are not deemed to be suspicious. In practice it means that if no history of abuse is identified initially - future opportunities to hold a perpetrator to account would be limited. 

The report read: “The ‘deep dive’ interview participants identified the need for a shift in investigative mindset, to really underpin professional curiosity amongst all officers attending and reviewing such deaths.” 

Meanwhile, good practice was noted - including the widespread use of Real Time Suicide Surveillance systems.

The systems create a real-time record of all suspected suicides - in some areas they are police-led and in others public health-led. 

Several systems currently in use are able to bring together reports of suicides and information known by local partner agencies. 

One force (Force 3) was the first in the country to add questions on domestic abuse into their RTSS while Force 2 are looking at implementing a strategy whereby attempted suicides by domestic abuse victims were reported to local IDVA partner services. 

Given that it is only the second report from the project, the possibility to identify trends is limited. However overarching findings published this week included that homicide by an intimate partner remained the most common (103 deaths in 2021-22), although homicide by a family member rose by 55% to 62 deaths. 

Overall, domestic homicides increased by 16% and 14 more victim suicides were identified by police, although the latter has been attributed at least in part to more awareness and better identification. 

Both of the annual reports to date have indicated that coercive and controlling behaviour is a prominent risk factor in both intimate partner homicide and suspected victim suicide cases and police were called take positive action where this behaviour is identified as well as consider referrals to suicide prevention interventions. 

Meanwhile there is a suspected link that the Christmas and New Year period could be a time of increased risk of suicides following domestic abuse (a trend that isn’t true of suicides more generally). 

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Domestic Abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said: “While policing has a vital role, this report identifies the complexity of these cases and that policing doesn’t hold all the answers. Victims and perpetrators often have complex needs and we cannot do this alone.  I would ask that all public sector leaders consider these findings as we all have a vital role to play.

“We accept all of the recommendations and will aim to quickly address the issues identified. This report, while challenging to read, is an important step and I am grateful to the academics and the team who continue to highlight where policing needs to improve.”

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