Doubly depressing this time?

I have just finished reading the IPCC report into the police handling of the domestic abuse incidents involving Casey Brittle prior to her murder in October 2010.  It is pretty depressing reading in any context – a litany of missed opportunities to identify the risks she faced as a woman of 21, with a small child.  There were 11 incidents of domestic abuse involving her ex partner Sanchez Williams – who had ‘an extensive criminal record and warnings on the Police National Computer for violence’ – interesting in the context of the DV Disclosure Scheme proposal (see earlier post on Clare’s Law). Would these convictions meet the criteria for disclosure?

Other than a feeling of puzzlement that such apparently obvious signs were missed – Casey Brittle’s own expression of fear, multiple incidents, assaults in a public place with CCTV footage – and a reality check about being wise after the event, I am left with three other thoughts – none very uplifting.

Firstly, we do get some pushback on the guidance we give about using the CAADA DASH risk checklist in every case involving domestic abuse.  People ask us – every case?  Really?  Reading the IPCC report the answer is yes.  There is an understandable effort on the part of the police, led by ACPO, to reduce bureaucracy and use of the domestic abuse risk checklist has been highlighted as an area where ‘streamlining’ could be brought in.  Streamlining is being piloted in a few force areas at the moment.  It involves use of the checklist only in case involving intimate partner violence – or ex-intimate partner, and only when a crime has been committed or where there is a repeat incident of domestic abuse.  We can see the logic of the first point but have major concerns about the second two elements.  You only need to read the IPCC report to see why.  In a case like Casey Brittle, there are numerous examples of the victim not disclosing the full extent of the situation to the attending officer, and thus no crime being recorded and even failing to log it as a domestic abuse incident.  This means that the ‘repeat’ safety net does not work either.  It feels like we might be about to take a giant step backwards if this is adopted nationally.

The second thought is that there is no record in the IPCC report of Casey Brittle being offered specialist support from an IDVA, or other trained DV practitioner until the very end when Victim Support are recorded as checking whether she had given consent to be contacted.  There should be no confusion about this – there is so much research stressing the need to offer victims independent support and that this can make all the difference in terms of their safety.  Especially, in high risk cases, the contact should be speedy and proactive.

Finally, the report comments on the gatekeeping that took place to contain the number of cases that went to MARAC at no more than 40 per month.  Those of you who have undertaken our MARAC Quality Assurance process will know what we feel about this!  It is essential that we find the resources to allow all high risk victims to have their cases heard at MARAC – although extraordinarily, Casey Brittle was never categorised as high risk despite her expressions of fear, her partner’s criminal record, use of weapons, separation, and threats to kill…

And that just brings me back to using the risk checklist systematically again.  It is just a series of prompts to check on the main risk factors for repeat victimisation and homicide.  No more – no less.  But very important.

8 Comments to “Doubly depressing this time?”

  1. Interesting reading Diana but sadly not suprising. Your point on MARAC’s and gatekeeping is also something that concerns me. In my current role as IDSVA based in a female prison I attend MARAC’s across Yorkshire and Humberside. I am continually frustrated at the number of referrals to MARAC which in my view would not meet MARAC threshold and are more medium than high risk. Given this I have grave concerns as to the number of high and very high risk cases, like the above, that are being missed.
    In my opinion there are two main issues.
    Firstly, we must never assume that the professional carrying out the risk assessment fully understands the purpose and importance of it. Training on how to use the CAADA DASH RA effectively is imperative.
    Secondly, is there an element of pressure on police forces to provide quantity rather than quality? Over the years the number of referrals to MARAC has increased dramatically, which in itself is extremely positive. In my view the next step needs to be consistancy in terms of the cases being referred. I appreciate that all cases carry an element of risk but the MARAC is there for those who lives are in danger.

  2. I am interested in what you say about cases not reaching the threshold – I am not sure that this is usual. Rather, most MARACs that I visit have too many high risks cases coming through. The training point is a tricky one – of course you are right but with high staff turnover, training gets diluted very quickly. I don’t think that there is pressure to produce quantity – but we haven’t got the right levers yet to promote quality. This is hard in a multi agency setting, with different objectives for different agencies. We are thinking about different ways that this work could be funded, with rewards for quality rather than the current system which does not differentiate. Perhaps the Community Budgeting proposals might help with this?

  3. Emma Brooks
    Whilst I would never consider not reporting a HIGH risk case to MARAC sometimes there are cases where it is clear it is a case of ticking the MARAC box to satisfy the statitions rather than the MARAC being able to offer anything constructive to the victim by way of extra support. However, I see several cases that aren’t HIGH that the MARAC could actually benefit but the criteria is such that they can’t be referred so we have to wait for the inevitable escalation so that they are then suitable for the MARAC to discuss. I am afraid I am a little sceptical of any meeting where it is clearly a box ticking exercise to negate responsibility if something horrendous happens.Any multi agency meeting should be able to offer practical assistance otherwise it becomes pointless. I feel as a domestic abuse officer that the force I work for has managed to give decent advice and instruction to shift officers regarding the importance of DASH and its usefulness regardless of the number of yes answers. What concerns me more is the levels of bureacracy that are being put into the risk assessing process that it hinders the safety management process that we perform. HIGH risk cases are often easier to manage than the lower graded ones. Clearly there are and have been failures to deal appropriately with HIGH’s but I am concerned that many DV murders come out of Standard risk incidents or with no prior warning to police of DV. With the advent of serious case reviews of domestic homicides now being undertaken it makes it even more imperitive that ALL agencies take responsibility for reporting things to MARAC rather than assuming that something criminal will happen that will mean the police will take responsibility.Often other agencies will be privy to far more candid disclosures than the police will ever receive.

    • The last thing we would support is a box ticking exercise. But equally we would be very cautious about assuming that there is nothing that a MARAC can do before the meeting based just just on one agency’s info. I have never been to a MARAC where other agencies – for example, health, substance misuse and the IDVA service haven’t brought relevant additional information. Is there an issue with attendance from these agencies at your MARAC?

      The exception to this might be in cases where there have been many referrals to MARAC – although I heard of such a case the other day where a woman who had never engaged, is now working with the IDVA service.

      And as for including lower risk cases, most areas we see are struggling to manage the volume of high risk so I don’t know how realistic this is in practice.

  4. I’d like to comment on training here. What training do IDVA’s & more importantly- Domestic Abuse Police Officers get in assessing & managing risk? Is there a national standard so that each MARAC can rely on the specialist police officers at least bringing some uniformity in cases. Do the Home Office set a national level for their officers dealing with DV on a daily basis?
    I think that in coordinating a response to DA- CAADA should start with IDVAs and DVU Police Officers/staff and train them all to a national standard in assessing DV. DASH is a good start but we all need to use it correctly and understand the assessment of risk to a common standard.

    • You make a fair point about training. Training on risk forms a major part of our IDVA foundation course. Training for police officers is less consistent and therefore needs to be backed up by good supervision, particularly where staff turnover is high. Another aspect that links in with this is the availability of specialist support for victims – without this some professionals will be hesitant about asking too much if they don’t feel competent to deal with the answers. So no quick wins I fear – we need a combination of training, good leadership and services to whom victims can be referred that are broader than the CJS.

      • I do appreciate what you suggest but to be fair, the most knowledgable officers in a DAU are often PC’s or DC’s and they are supervised by Sgts and DI’s who have little preparation nor appreciation of management of risk and have to rely on their juniors for guidance when they come into a unit. The supervisors are very often aiming for promotion and often have a faster turnover than the constables and civilians. Why is there such inconsistency within different forces- who coordinates anything within the Home Office or ACPO? I’ve noticed some PC’s getting detective training which I don’t think improves their work in DV- it normally leads them to find another job as they get an extra string to their bows. The police are such an important role within DV that it is shameful there is nothing similar or complementary to a CID course for them.

  5. We are fortunate in Bristol to be able to send cases to MARAC on professional judgement … which are all heard irrespective of the CAADA DASH RIC score, that way those cases where you have “gut feeling” of high risk as a professional are given the opportunity to be presented in a multi-agency setting.

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