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27 March 2014, 06:56 | Updated: 27 March 2014, 07:15
A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has highlighted 'serious concerns' in the way Bedfordshire Police deals with domestic abuse.
An official report has highlighted 'serious concerns' in the way Bedfordshire Police force deals with domestic abuse cases.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has found only eight out of 43 forces responded well to domestic abuse and the most vulnerable victims faced a ``lottery'' in the way their complaints were handled.
But inspectors singled out four forces of particular concern, Bedfordshire, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire and Gloucestershire Police, while hailing Lancashire Police as having the best response to domestic abuse.
Poor attitudes, ineffective training and inadequate evidence-gathering were all heavily criticised by the watchdog, which has called for an urgent shake-up of the response to domestic abuse - from frontline officers up to police chiefs.
Home Secretary Theresa May has announced she will chair a new national monitoring group, in response to one of the key recommendations made by the inspectors, to ensure every police force overhauls its approach to domestic violence.
In response to the HMIC report Bedfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins said: "Victims of domestic abuse, whether it is the partners of violent perpetrators or indeed the children involved, are some of the most vulnerable people the police encounter. That is why I identified them as a priority in the Police and Crime Plan I published for the county shortly after I was elected, and why I have actually said I want to see an increase in the reporting of domestic violence incidents because this will demonstrate victims have the confidence to seek help. I have spent time meeting providers and speaking to service users of Women's Refuge and the Independent Domestic Violence Advisers so I know how important this issue of confidence is.
"I also know that Bedfordshire Police officers and staff are dedicated to supporting and protecting victims of domestic violence, and this is confirmed by HMICs report. However, it is undeniable that the report highlights some organisational and systemic issues that make for uncomfortable reading.
"Nevertheless, it is important to recognise this report is the result of an inspection rather than a serious case review. As such it provides scrutiny at a particular point in time. Since arriving in the Force Chief Constable Colette Paul has provided a new focus on victims' needs, especially the most vulnerable, and has already put in place an improvement programme that I am confident is addressing the very issues HMIC are highlighting. I will of course hold the Chief Constable to account for delivering the improvements we need to see."
In the report, inspectors said: ``HMIC is concerned about the poor attitudes that some police officers display towards victims of domestic abuse.''
They added: ``Victims told us that they were frequently not taken seriously, that they felt judged and that some officers demonstrated a considerable lack of empathy and understanding.''
HMIC warned the quality of response of an officer attending a domestic abuse incident was entirely dependent on the individual attending and was left ``almost entirely to chance''.
"The service that some of the most vulnerable victims in our communities receive from the police should not be a lottery,'' the report added.
This lack of understanding is partly driven by current approaches to training, which should be overhauled, the inspectors said.
Training is largely reliant on ``e-learning'', which typically involves a police officer reading information on a computer and then answering a short multiple-choice test, HMIC found.
Further failures in how officers gathered evidence in domestic violence cases were highlighted by the inspection.
In a file review of 600 domestic abuse cases of actual bodily harm, that is, where the victim will have a visible injury, inspectors found photographs of injuries were taken in only half the cases.
And in three cases out of 10, officers' statements lacked important details such as a description of the scene or injuries.
HMIC said: "In many forces, HMIC found alarming and unacceptable weaknesses in the collection of evidence by officers after arrival at a domestic abuse scene.''
Some forces had disabled the camera function on officers' phones, leading desperate investigators to resort to using their personal phones to take photographs of victims injuries.
There were also 'unacceptable' variations in charging abusive partners with criminal offences, inspectors said.
HMIC warned in some forces there were 'high levels' of cautioning, while the number of prosecutions pursued without the support of the victim was too small.
Forces were also found to be using so-called restorative justice as a way of resolving domestic abuse assaults between intimate partners - that is bringing couples together to discuss the incident.
Inspectors said this was 'not appropriate'' and gave rise to 'unacceptable risk'.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor said: "Domestic abuse casts a terrible blight on the lives of very many people, and can have tragic consequences.
"In too many police forces we found there were serious weaknesses in services, which are putting victims at unnecessary and avoidable risk.''
He added: "Domestic abuse is not only about violence, it is about fear, control and secrecy.
"It is essential that the police make substantial reforms to their handling of domestic abuse, including their understanding of the coercive and psychological nature of the crime as well as its physical manifestations.''
There were 269,700 domestic abuse-related crimes in England and Wales between 2012 and 2013, the report said, with 77 women killed by their partners or ex-partners in the same period.