You can read how this piece of research began here and later here. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) to carry out such research is decidedly clunky and so please consider this when reviewing the data below. Moreover, in hindsight, my third question could have been better phrased. After responses from some of the FoIA officers, it morphed into whether the perpetrators had been discussed on the MARAC system and/or had a noted DASH assessment. Also, I probably could have been clearer about whether the data was to include perpetrators who had been arrested but were not yet convicted within the time period specified.
Even with these caveats, I believe the data points towards some stark conclusions (see below)
- I wrote to 45 police services, including Police Scotland, PSNI and the City of London Police. All replied to me but 3 are yet to send me any definitive response saying that they are still working on this.
- Of the remaining 42, all but 2 answered Q1. (Those two forces claimed exemption, on the basis of cost, from replying to any of the questions. One of these two forces was the Metropolitan Police Service)
- Of the remaining 40, 36 were able to give answers to Q2. The other 3 claimed FoIA exemption.
- Of these 36, 25 were able to give answers to Q3. The other 11 forces explained they could not access such information easily without a great deal more effort, simply claimed FoIA exemption for this question or gave another reason.
- In the last five years (noting the forces that did not respond), the total number of domestic homicides dealt with by UK police forces over the last five years is 395.
- 161 of the people committing these crimes had some sort of criminal record. Or to put it another way, 234 of the people convicted of these murders did not have a previous criminal record. (That is well over half.)
- Whilst noting the exemptions invoked by many of the police forces replying, in only 17 of 395 cases were the perpetrators on any kind of watch list (MARAC discussion / DASH assessment).
So what conclusions to draw?
- It would appear that many of the perpetrators of domestic homicide are simply not on the police ‘radar’ at all since a minority have prior convictions. An extremely small number are on any kind of watch list.
- This suggests to me that targeted police enforcement action to prevent domestic homicide happening can only very limited.
- I am also left wondering (and this would definitely need more research) whether the people who commit murder in domestic circumstances are in a different criminological category to those who come to the attention of the police by dint of loud domestic arguments or other forms of violence (short of murder).
- This research also raises questions about the quality of the police & partner DV prevention systems: just how effective are those systems at spotting possible victims/perpetrators? I know there are issues of confidentiality and the need to keep secret certain police methods for tackling crime, but I was surprised how many police forces felt unable to give me any data in response to Q3. Is that data not readily available?
- And finally, this comes back to just how can domestic homicides be prevented if police action is limited because many perpetrators appear to escalate to murder from an ‘unknown’ status beforehand. It seems to me that educating young people (especially young women but not only) in the early warning signs is critical. I am left wondering how many of these domestic homicides could have been prevented if the victims has spotted such early warning signs and spoke to the police or other agencies earlier…?
Nonetheless, I sincerely hope that out there are people with the clout, nous and wit to use this small piece of research in helping to shape action that results in far fewer women and men suffering at the hands of existing or ex partners.