Force accused of ‘systemic failures’ in investigation of police perpetrated domestic abuse

The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has launched a civil claim on behalf of seven women against Devon and Cornwall Police for what it claims were “systemic failures” in the investigation of police perpetrated domestic abuse (PPDA).

Feb 13, 2024
By Paul Jacques

The claim argues that their seven, unrelated, reports of PPDA were “so badly handled that they demonstrate there is a systemic failing by Devon and Cornwall Police to investigate such crimes”.

The CWJ sent a letter to Devon and Cornwall Police on February 2 setting out that a claim will be issued in the High Court on behalf of seven women for breach of their human rights.

The force said the information “requires careful consideration and appropriate review” and has made a mandatory referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

The CWJ said it was approached “individually” by the women who, most following the publication of its super-complaint into how all forces, nationally, were failing to address PPDA, reported a range of abuse by their then police officer partners.

The reports include rape, physical and mental abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, harassment and stalking.

“In each case, Devon and Cornwall Police failed to take basic investigative steps and in one case, even treated the victim, herself a former police officer, as a potential offender on the basis of counter-allegations raised by her perpetrator which were later determined to be false,” said the CWJ.

“Other failings include appointing investigators who were connected to the accused officers, failing to gather statements from potential witnesses, and wholesale failure to update the women, some of whom remain in the dark as to what, if any, investigation has been conducted.

“Without exception, the victims say that the failure to maintain their confidence in the investigations left them unable to pursue the matter in any other way except by legal action.”

Debaleena Dasgupta, a solicitor at CWJ who is acting in the claim, said: “The women’s combined testimonies paint a picture of a force not just unable to investigate police perpetrated domestic abuse, but seemingly unwilling to.

“This case shows that in multiple, unrelated, matters, Devon and Cornwall Police have failed to take even basic steps to investigate their own officers who have been accused of serious domestic abuse.

“Some of the accused officers remain in Devon and Cornwall Police, including in roles which are meant to address violence against women and girls in the area. Not one officer was even properly investigated for misconduct, let alone for criminal offences. What does this tell us about vetting in the force?

“Without exception, the women bringing this case have explained that they have ‘lost faith’ in Devon and Cornwall Police. Some say they wished they had never reported at all, given the way they have been treated.

“As part of their claim, the women have offered to help Devon and Cornwall Police improve its practices and procedures. It is up to Devon and Cornwall Police how they intend to address this.

“It is my clients’ hope that Devon and Cornwall Police will recognise that they have failed, and try to put this right for others.”

‘Lizzie’, one of the seven women involved in the claim, said: “I have lost all faith in Devon and Cornwall Police. It’s quite a terrifying experience knowing that every single officer I have dealt with over the years will prioritise protecting a fellow officer rather than investigating a report of abuse.

“If I can help to ensure that no other woman is made to feel as vulnerable and hopeless as I have been left feeling by Devon and Cornwall Police, then this action will have been a success.”

‘Samantha’, who is also involved in the claim, said: “I have gone from trusting the police to no longer being able to trust them or others. Coming together with the CWJ and other women who have experienced similar at the hands of Devon and Cornwall Police has been the only hope I have had over the last few years. If I had to start over, I would never report to the police as the process and their handling was just as bad as the abuser and the abuse prior to reporting. I want to have my voice heard so others don’t have to endure what I have and still go through.”

Assistant Chief Constable Jim Pearce said: “Devon and Cornwall Police has been made aware of information received on February 2, 2024, which requires careful consideration and appropriate review.

“As a result of the information received, the force has made a mandatory referral to the IOPC.

“The IOPC has asked for further work to be progressed by the force before they can accept and assess a referral, but we remain in consultation with them in providing the required information.

“It would be both inappropriate and premature to comment further at this stage.”

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