The harm and horror of domestic abuse is unacceptable
Simon Meecham has been found guilty of the murder of his former partner Leanne Meecham in February, 2014. My deepest sympathy is with the family and friends of Leanne.
Every domestic homicide is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for everyone who knew and loved the victim. It should be a source of shame for us as a society that domestic murders are still taking place.
Every day in Essex, there are still around 80 domestic abuse incidents requiring an emergency police response, and during the summer months this number has approached 100 incidents. We must continue to provide support and protection to victims. We must continue to encourage people to report domestic abuse incidents to police and support agencies. We must continue to be tough with perpetrators.
Since becoming Police and Crime Commissioner in November 2012, I have made tackling domestic abuse a priority for Essex Police. The “and Crime” part of my role authorises me to work with all the agencies and organisations who can play a part in preventing crime and harm from occurring in the first place. To address the root problems of domestic abuse we need close working between police and partner agencies, and we also need to change attitudes in society towards domestic abuse.
Last year, a Domestic Abuse Strategy Board, which I chair and which has high level membership, was created to look at how domestic abuse can be tackled across all parts of Essex. A key objective of the board is to enhance the flow of information and the quality of partnership working between Essex Police, criminal justice agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service, councils, social care, probation services, and healthcare professionals. The board is also the mechanism for addressing any blockages which may be preventing the timely sharing of information and effective joint working between agencies. We are making progress.
I know that Essex Police, under the leadership of Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh, has been responding vigorously and innovatively to cases of domestic abuse, and there has been extensive work to improve the support available to victims of domestic abuse.
In January 2014, we secured Home Office funding of £440,000 to Essex and Kent Police towards the cost of body worn cameras. Essex Police is now equipping its officers who attend domestic abuse incidents with these cameras so objective evidence of harm can be captured immediately and automatically. We are working with the new national College of Policing to evaluate the results of this initiative in a rigorous, scientific, manner.
In March 2014, the Chief Constable introduced “Clare’s Law” into Essex. This programme, also known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, enables people to find out if their partners have a previous history of domestic violence.
In recent months, Essex Police has restructured and enhanced the support provided to frontline response officers by specialist domestic abuse officers, with inter-agency hubs now operating in key parts of the county such as Southend and Thurrock. Over the summer, Essex Police ran Operation Shield – a proactive operation to manage the most dangerous domestic abuser perpetrators. Essex Police has identified the top 117 perpetrators who pose the greatest risk to their victims in order to reduce the likelihood of further offending and protect victims.
Essex Police has also used new legislation to obtain Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) in cases where reports have been received of domestic related incidents, but there is not enough evidence to charge a person. If officers have concerns about an individual’s safety, the DVPN enables safeguarding measures to be implemented. Since June 1, 2014, 80 Domestic Violence Protection Orders have been obtained by Essex Police.
As PCC, I have provided £260,000 to Victims Support to help fund and expand the Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) service for victims of domestic abuse. The IDVAs play a crucial role in supporting victims, ideally intervening at an early enough stage to prevent harm from occurring in the future.
There is much important and tangible work taking place.
But, as Police and Crime Commissioner, I cannot promise that there will never be another domestic homicide in Essex. With great sadness, I know that there will be more domestic homicides across the country until we, as a society, mobilise and say: the harm and horror caused by domestic abuse is unacceptable.
I have learnt with alarm that we are seeing abusive relationships develop even amongst our young people, teenagers, and we have to work with schools to address this.
There should be no tolerance of domestic abuse. But until every one of us agrees to act to tackle domestic abuse as soon as it occurs, we will remain in the cycle of looking to learn the lessons from another domestic homicide.
The family and friends of Leanne Meecham have all my sympathy.
There is an internal investigation, supervised by the IPCC, currently underway into this case, and it would be wrong of me to prejudge the outcome of that investigation.
However, I note that Simon Meecham had been arrested by Essex Police for assaulting Leanne in January 2014. He had been charged with common assault and pleaded guilty. Simon Meecham was on court bail awaiting sentencing when he murdered Leanne in February 2014.
I also know that there is a Domestic Homicide Review (DHR), involving all agencies who had contact with the Meecham family, underway. The DHR must be thorough and considered, but I hope it will be completed within a reasonable period of time.
I am sure that the findings of both the IPCC internal investigation and the DHR will be carefully considered by the appropriate agencies.
All of us in society need to do more to stop domestic abuse at the earliest possible opportunity, to prevent more tragic murders from taking place.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I will do all I can to provide focused leadership to this work in Essex.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex