Essex Police force criticised over handling of domestic abuse cases

A POLICE force which failed four murder victims must do more to protect women who suffer at the hands of abusive partners, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has found.

Repeated failures in Essex Police’s handling of reports of abuse were highlighted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) following: the 2008 killing of Maria Stubbings by her ex-boyfriend Marc Chivers; the 2011 fatal shootings of Christine Chambers and her two-year-old daughter Shania by David Oakes; and the murder of Jeanette Goodwin at the hands of her ex eight weeks later.

In a new report, HMIC inspectors said the force took steps to improve the way it handles such cases but said further work is needed to ensure the risks to victims are properly managed.

Zoe Billingham, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: “Domestic abuse is a very serious crime, as the tragic cases of Maria Stubbings, Christine Chambers, her two-year-old daughter Shania and Jeanette Goodwin demonstrate. And it’s absolutely vital the police get the handling of these cases right for victims.

“Essex Police should be recognised for taking the positive step of asking for this issue to be reviewed, and the force has taken a number of important steps to address how domestic abuse cases are handled.

“However, there is still more work to do to ensure that victims get the best possible service from their force.”

Ms Stubbings, a 50-year-old mother-of-two from Chelmsford, was strangled with a dog lead in 2008 by Chivers who also killed a previous girlfriend.

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The IPCC found there was no assessment of the risk Chivers posed to Ms Stubbings and as a result she was not afforded proper protection.

Christine Chambers, 38, from Braintree, was complaining about violence from Oakes for two years before the murders and the IPCC found the force’s response was “inadequate”.

Jeanette Goodwin, 47, was stabbed 30 times by Martin Bunch, 44, in front of her husband at her home in Southend.

The IPCC found she received an “inadequate response” from Essex Police on the day of her murder, adding that the force did not recognise the need for urgent action.

Since the deaths, Essex Police have improved training and ensured officers who attend incidents are provided with better intelligence, such as reports of previous attacks, HMIC said.

But the review found that while individual officers provide appropriate protection and support of victims, the overall approach to dealing with victims is “fragmented”.

This risks undermining trust among victims and increases the likelihood of victims being unwilling to support prosecutions, the report said.

HMIC made the following recommendations:

• Essex Police should review the way they prioritise domestic abuse incidents. At the moment most incidents are assessed as a priority response which makes it difficult for control room staff to identify those cases that need the fastest response. Treating every case as a priority risks more urgent cases not being properly prioritised

• The force need to develop staff understanding around the response to domestic abuse and how dealing with it effectively can improve the confidence of victims and prevent homicides

• The force should ensure the right information is available to staff who handle abuse cases, for example, by reviewing their standard operating procedure to include a question establishing how frightened a caller feels

• Essex Police should also take immediate steps to monitor cases where perpetrators are taken directly from police custody to court, to help ensure that the risk to victims continues to be managed if the perpetrator is released

• And the force needs to intensify its work with other agencies across Essex to develop a more co-ordinated approach to domestic abuse.