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EXCLUSIVE: Police and CPS preparing for explosion in domestic violence cases once coronavirus lockdo

POLICE and the CPS are bracing for a potential explosion in domestic violence cases when the lockdown is finally lifted.

Officials fear that many victims will have been unable to report offences due to being lockdown with their abusive partners, but could take the opportunity to do so once restrictions are fully lifted. This is on top of an already growing backlog of domestic violence related court cases due to jury trials being suspended.

More extreme cases of domestic violence are coming to the attention of police.

On Friday police were called to an incident when a child was stabbed in in Brent, north-west London at 1pm. The child was taken to a London hospital, with their condition not believed to be life-threatening. An injured man, aged in his 30s, was also taken to hospital and he was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. It is believed the victim and man are known to each other and police are not looking for anyone else. But, it is feared less extreme domestic abuse could be going on unreported.

DCC Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs Council lead of domestic violence, said police forces have reported varying increases, with just a three per cent rise in domestic violence nationally, but there are fears the true level is hidden. Speaking at a press briefing, she said that 14 women were killed in suspected domestic attacks in the first three weeks of the lockdown, but that many other non-fatal offences may be going unreported.

PREPARED: DCC Louisa Rolfe (West Midlands)

She said: "Social distancing may make it more difficult to report domestic abuse and for friends, families and professionals to identify abuse. "It may be there will be an increase in reporting afterwards and we are preparing for that." Mark Burns-Williamson, the police and crime commissioner for West Yorkshire, released figures last week showing a 12 per cent rise in domestic violence in the week up to April 12 on the previous year. There has been a steady rise in incidents since lockdown, with 1,300 reported in that week. Mr Burns-Williamson said: "There has been a steady increase when comparing week on week which leads currently to a 12 per cent increase in comparison with the same time last year." The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said in a submission to a Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the crisis: "The fragility of the criminal justice system is felt to present a current and future risk to policing, both in coping with cases currently in the system and the potential increase in new cases that are likely to come forward once lock-down arrangements are eased."

INCREASE: Mark Burns-Williamson said West Yorkshire Police saw a 12 % rise (West Yorkshire Police)

A Law Society submission added: "There will be an inevitable surge in domestic abuse cases reported once some lockdown measures are lifted... it is vital that the justice system is equipped to be able to process these cases and ensure that victims have access to justice." According to Jeff Cuthbert, PCC for Gwent, the force is identifying at risk vulnerable domestic violence victims that are not currently reporting offences so police teams can proactively monitor their homes while on patrols. Other forces are meeting with known offenders outside the home, so they can make checks on the victim, or even getting abusers temporarily moved. West Midlands Police warned that it already had a huge backlog of domestic violence offenders, after experiencing its worst ever month on record before the lockdown started, with fears it will worsen.

One of the first women to be killed was Kelly Fitzgibbons, 40, who was found dead with daughters Lexi, two, and Ava, four, at their home in Woodmancote, West Sussex in the first week of lockdown on March 29.

An inquest heard her partner Robert Needham, 42, shot them before turning the gun on himself.

MURDERED: Robert Needham and Kelly Fitzgibbons (Facebook)

David Jamieson, West Midlands PCC said there was an average of 120 offences recorded each day in 2020, and January 2020 was the "highest month on record" with just over 4,000 recorded crimes. There were 1,356 outstanding offenders to be dealt with in January. The CPS is developing an emergency strategy, to cope with the backlog and expected surge, while many of its prosecutors have gone of sick during the coronavirus lockdown. Magistrates' courts are still sitting and the CPS hopes to deal with as many cases as possible through them, but if defendant's plead not guilty they will have to go before a jury after the lockdown, if no changes are made. A CPS submission said it was carrying out "contingency planning, including considering circumstances in which the police and/or CPS resources could become stretched." It added: "This approach will help to ensure that the criminal justice system is positioned to brigade and cluster cases through the magistrates’ courts, enabling the best use of specialist support and expertise." Figures up to March 31, nine days into the lockdown, show that out of the 6,192 people employed by the CPS, 386 had registered sickness absence during the last four weeks, 6.23 per cent of its workforce. The CPS added: "We have seen slightly higher absence rates among our prosecutors in the last week compared with other staff. "Eighty one people were recorded as affected by Covid-19, which translates to 1.31 per cent of the CPS workforce."

(Main image Toimetaja Tolkeburoo/Unsplash)

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