Charity bids to build first refuge centre for domestic abuse victims in Uttlesford

VICTIMS of domestic abuse could soon be given a safe haven if a proposal to build the first women’s refuge centre in Uttlesford is given the go-ahead.

Support for the pioneering move has gained momentum after figures revealed a steep rise in the number of domestic abuse cases reported last year – up by more than 50 per cent from 2010.

The new Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Nick Alston, has also vowed to make cracking down on domestic abuse and violence against women one of his top priorities.

Safer Places, a charity which offers support to domestic abuse victims, has appealed for Uttlesford District Council to provide it with a site to build a specialist housing project for women suffering domestic abuse.

The cabinet is to vote next Tuesday (March 26) on whether an unidentified 556sq/m plot of land in Dunmow should be transferred to the charity for free, albeit at a cost of £215,000 to the council.

Four maisonette-style flats with parking have been earmarked for the site, a bill to be footed by Safer Places alongside the associated running costs, but handover of the land would hinge on planning permission being granted.

In its submissions to the council, it is made clear that ‘Safer Places, with funding from the council, has already implemented an outreach support service within Uttlesford for victims of domestic abuse. This accommodation would be the next step in developing domestic abuse services within Uttlesford’.

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Last year police received 680 reports of domestic abuse across the district compared to 447 cases in 2010.

The new PCC called domestic violence “a serious issue across the whole of society which often escalates into more serious crimes, including murder”.

He vowed to “drive the problem down” when addressing the public at the Uttlesford Forum meeting earlier this month, before exclusively telling the Reporter: “There is terrific work going on across the county but it needs to continue. Essex Police has been really seriously criticised for their responses in the past.”

Mr Alston added: “There is more criticism coming with a report coming out by the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission] which again is going to raise a lot of questions of historic cases from 2008. But it will all come back into the consciousness and the police are really worried about it.

“Every time they get called to a domestic they don’t know if they’re going to a tiff or if someone is about to be murdered,”

Mr Alston said the problem was widespread not only across the rest of Essex but also the country as a whole.

Last year Essex Police received 28,000 reports of domestic abuse. Forty-five per cent were repeat victims. However, Home Office estimates suggest the number of victims may be far higher, with figures placing the total at around 44,000.

Officers at Uttlesford District Council believe the area’s rural nature may be a barrier in preventing victims from coming forward – suggesting the problem could be more widespread than police records show.

Plans are also in the pipeline to create a new domestic abuse awareness workshop aimed at encouraging victims to come forward.