Police officers accused of domestic abuse have been accused of making witness statements vanish to help clear their names, a Telegraph investigation reveals today.
Women who have reported their partners, who are serving officers, to the police for domestic abuse told this newspaper they have experienced “corruption behind the scenes” when forces are left to investigate their own.
A charity has warned of cases where evidence has gone missing, officers have accessed the force computer system to look through files on their investigation, and women being told their partner will not be investigated because it will “bring the force into disrepute”.
The revelations come as the Victims Commissioner of England and Wales has called for a change in procedure which would prevent forces from investigating one of their officers for allegations of domestic abuse, with a neighbouring force taking it on instead.
Writing jointly in The Telegraph, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Adams, and Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird say policing "encourages a culture of loyalty" among their own.
"Clearly, there are far more good officers than bad but it’s plain that many abusers aren’t being dealt with properly," they warn.
Marking their own homework
"Carrying a warrant card comes with a badge of trust. If that trust is betrayed there must be swift and rigorous consequences. The reputation of the police rests on it."
One woman told this newspaper that it felt like the police “were on his side” as soon as she reported that her partner, a serving officer at Sussex Police, had physically abused her.
“It’s like they were marking their own homework,” the woman said.
“During a conversation with the Detective Inspector handling my complaint, he told me that someone higher up the chain said ‘no, let’s treat this as if he is a member of the public’.
“The DI couldn’t understand my shock when I told him that it was terrifying that they were considering treating him differently because he was a police officer.”
Domestic abuse: Case studies
Nogah Ofer, from the Centre for Women’s Justice, called for external forces to handle the investigations, saying there should be “a firewall between the investigators and the suspect”.
“We have seen a pattern of problems,” she said, referring to forces all across the country.
“At the heart of some of these cases is a form of corruption behind the scenes. There are inadequacies and evidence goes missing. The investigators know the suspects and the witnesses. Some women have been disciplined and arrested. In multiple ways there are accounts of the police family closing around to protect the suspect.”
Ms Ofer said the Centre for Women’s Justice has dealt with cases where a female officer was called into a meeting with her line manager and told it would bring the force into disrepute to investigate her partner, who was also a serving officer.
In another case, a woman’s statement – which she knew had been given to her partner – later vanished, whilst another woman tried to move away from her abusive partner but he could access DVLA records and find out where she was.
Ms Ofer added: “We need a system where justice appears to be done. But at the moment there is too much of a link between the suspects and the police so there is a complete lack of trust and confidence in the system.
“Police officers can access the system and see information about themselves. Some cases are obviously done properly, but some cases aren’t and there’s certainly a high level of risk that dodgy things can be done to bury these cases.”
Carrying a warrant card comes with a badge of trust. If that trust is betrayed there must be swift and rigorous consequences
When you are the victim or survivor of domestic abuse, it can take immense courage to go to the police to report.
But what happens when the person who abused you happens to be a serving officer themselves?
Policing often relies on the confidence of victims: the confidence to come forward, to report, and to support prosecutions to bring offenders to justice.
But there are serious concerns around how police forces handle and investigate their own staff when they are accused of domestic abuse and other serious offences.
This is now subject to a ‘super-complaint’ being investigated by the policing inspectorate and brought by the Centre for Women’s Justice.
Thanks to the work of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, we know hundreds of reports of domestic abuse are made against serving police officers every year but the number who face criminal action or misconduct hearings is far, far too small.
Top ten police forces for reports of domestic abuse by staff
In total, the Bureau uncovered nearly 700 reports of domestic abuse by police officers in the three years to 2018 – averaging more than four a week. Less than one in ten resulted in a dismissal or warning.
Only 3.9% resulted in a conviction – that’s compared with 6.2% among the general public, which is itself deeply unsatisfactory.
Senior officers say this type of conduct has absolutely no place within policing.
As the Domestic Abuse and Victims Commissioners, it is abundantly clear to us we need to see a zero-tolerance approach to domestic abuse within police ranks, and that no perpetrator should be a serving police officer. So, how did we get here and what needs to change?
Clearly, there are far more good officers than bad but it’s plain that many abusers aren’t being dealt with properly, and we have heard of officers closing ranks and ignoring victims’ needs.
The whole purpose of police misconduct procedures is to root out bad officers and thus preserve confidence in the profession of policing.
Given the possibilities for conflicts of interest, it might be expected that forces would have rigorous measures in place for dealing with allegations of domestic abuse by their own officers.
But when looking at forces across England and Wales, this does not seem to be the case.
Policing generally encourages a culture of loyalty. This is compounded in smaller forces, where many officers will typically know each other. For victims, this can make it feel like there is simply nowhere to go to get a truly independent investigation.
The Bureau reported on force after force where investigations were botched and, in some cases, the police even appeared to be complicit in making the victim feel harassed.
That problem can only be overcome by having a system in place that protects victim confidentiality and where investigations are handled externally.
Unless there is a very good reason, when an allegation is made against an officer, it should immediately be sent to a neighbouring force to investigate – independent enough to do a proper investigation and near enough to facilitate local services support for the complainant.
The public should be assured that reports of domestic abuse to the police – no matter the circumstances – – will be handled in a sensitive and compassionate way, with investigations carried out to the highest possible standard.
This doesn’t always happen. We need to see the outcome of the super-complaint brought by the Centre for Women’s Justice, and action taken as a matter of urgency.
We need clarity for all forces about how to deal with domestic abuse allegations made by victims against their staff. Leadership across all forces simply must get a grip on this issue.
Carrying a warrant card comes with a badge of trust. If that trust is betrayed there must be swift and rigorous consequences. The reputation of the police rests on it.
By Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, and Victims Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird