IPCC issues findings from investigation into South Wales Police handling of domestic abuse case
An IPCC investigation has found that a woman, who was hospitalised after being attacked in her Cardiff flat by her partner, was let down by a consistent thread of low level performance by South Wales Police officers and members of staff.
The investigation found that the force failed to access, and to process, relevant information appropriately, and did not make the woman aware of the risks that the man - who was a registered sex offender with a record of violence - presented to her and her young children.
On August 26, 2011, the woman made a statement to police, alleging that the man had assaulted her, resulting in bruising. Police could not immediately find the man, who had been released from prison in 2007, but who was still on licence.
Three days later, while away from her flat, the woman contacted police again, to report that the man had been at her address earlier and had been harassing her to drop the charges against him. She asked police to meet her and stated that she felt unable to return home.
The woman, with her two young children, waited over two hours for the police to arrive. She was taken to a police station, where she made a further statement. An officer later drove the woman and her children home. Within minutes of the officer leaving, the partner forced entry into the locked flat, and attacked the woman with a hammer, resulting in serious head injuries.
IPCC Commissioner Jan Williams said:
''We found that, following the initial assault, the police did not give this case any urgency or priority. No one took overall supervision and this failure to ' join the dots' effectively put this woman and her children at serious risk. South Wales Police had the systems and intelligence in place to flag up the danger that this offender presented, but, at various stages, officers failed to access that information and to assess the risk properly.
"The force has accepted our findings and recognises that it placed the woman, and her young children, at unacceptable risk. Since 2012, the Police and Crime Commissioner has made this area of policing a high priority and has worked with the force to improve the police response to allegations of domestic abuse. Earlier this year, HMIC also published an inspection report on the way in which the force was handling domestic abuse allegations and this highlighted positive changes.
"This high level of priority is welcome, as this area of policing needs constant vigilance; domestic abuse has a number of characteristics and police officers need regular training updates to make sure that they are alert to them all. Victims must have confidence that, in coming forward, their allegations will be given a high priority.”
The IPCC investigation has recommended that one police constable has a case to answer for misconduct and that one other officer, with three control room staff, should be subject to management intervention for poor performance. South Wales Police is arranging a misconduct meeting for the officer with a case to answer.
South Wales Police should have referred the matter to the IPCC at the time it happened; instead, the IPCC only became aware of it over a year later, when the woman's MP complained on her behalf. The IPCC began an independent investigation in early 2013, completing it in April this year.
The investigation found that, following the initial assessment, while officers did conduct some area searches, an apparent lack of activity at the offender's address indicated that the police made only limited efforts to apprehend a potentially violent sex offender. Police had correctly documented and recorded all the intelligence their databases held on the offender, but did not use that information well in dealing with the escalating situation. A notification to the Probation Service may not have prevented the serious assault, but it could have resulted in the offender's licence being revoked, and his swift return to custody.
IPCC commissioner Jan Williams added:
''We cannot say with any certainty what would have happened if the police had placed a higher priority on finding the offender after the initial assault; we can say that the lack of focus at the time placed the woman and her children at serious risk.''
The man was recalled to prison after the second assault and committed suicide in November 2011.
The IPCC has recommended that SWP reviews its training for first responders and supervisors in the effective management of domestic abuse situations, especially where children are involved. The force is also recommended to review training around officers' access to, and use of, information systems, as an integral part of domestic abuse investigations.
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