Police ‘struggling to gather evidence of coercive control’

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Nov 28, 2017
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Coercive control involves banning the victim from having friendships or hobbies, refusing them access to money or setting rules about how they live their daily lives

Anna Gowthorpe/PA

Police have only charged a sixth of those arrested under the new offence of coercive control, amid fears that officers are struggling to gather strong evidence for prosecution.

Figures from a survey of 35 police forces in England Wales published yesterday found that in the six months after beefed up legislation was enacted in 2015, 798 people were arrested and 130 were charged.

The following year over another six months, the number of arrests had more than doubled — yet only 287 people were charged.

In the 18 months from January 2016 to the end of June this year, a total of 3,937 arrests were made but only 666, about 17 per cent, were charged.

The offence was brought in by Theresa May while she was home secretary, and targets abusers who may ban their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refuse them access to money, or set rules about when they are allowed to eat, sleep or go to the lavatory.

Anti-domestic violence campaigners welcomed the rise in arrests but expressed concern over the inability of some police forces to bring cases to court.

“Gathering enough evidence to meet the demands of the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a charge is challenging,” said Emma Pearmaine, a partner at the Huddersfield law firm Ridley & Hall, which obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request.

“And many cases are dropped because of insufficient evidence or because the victim withdraws their support,” she added. “In a large proportion of cases, no one is charged because the victim decides not to support further police action.”

Pearmaine said that dropping the complaint was not necessarily an indication that a crime had not been committed but instead that “fear has prevailed. Unless victims feel safe and able to leave at the point of reporting the abuse, they will remain trapped and at serious risk of harm in a huge proportion of cases. Everyone involved has a responsibility to make it possible to get to and remain in a safe place”.

Pearmaine said that the most critical point in an investigation of possible coercive control was when an alleged victim initially approached the police. “Returning home to an abusive partner who is aware that the police have become involved is a truly frightening prospect for the victim,” she said.

“They might find any access to money they had completely removed, and the seriousness of threats to themselves and their loved ones amplified. It is vital that victims are wrapped in the blanket of support that enables them to leave the abuser the very moment they come forward and ask for help. This, however, requires more resources than is currently available.”

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