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PSNI chief: We lack funding to prevent domestic abuse killings

By Deborah McAleese

Published 17/11/2015

Arthur and Lorraine McElhill with their children James, Caroline, Bellina, Sean and Clodagh who died in a fire in 2007
Arthur and Lorraine McElhill with their children James, Caroline, Bellina, Sean and Clodagh who died in a fire in 2007
Marion Millican who was shot dead by former partner Fred McClenaghan in 2011
Fred McClenaghan

Police have raised concerns over their ability to resource vital case reviews that could help prevent domestic violence killings.

Chief Constable George Hamilton has warned that due to workload pressures he will have to prioritise legacy issues over probes into the background of domestic abuse-linked murders and manslaughters.

An average of five people are killed every year in Northern Ireland by a current or ex-partner.

Two of the most shocking cases in recent years include the McElhill family in Omagh, who were burnt to death in their own home in 2007, and that of mother-of-four Marion Millican, who was shot dead by her former partner Fred McClenaghan in 2011.

Calls were made for the establishment of domestic homicide reviews (DHRs) following the McElhill case. Sex offender Arthur McElhill torched his house in 2007, killing himself, his partner and their five young children.

An independent investigation into the tragedy at Lammy Crescent found that health and social services failed to reach some of the most basic standards of care.

Over 60 recommendations were made for all agencies involved in supporting children and families.

Eight years - and an estimated 40 domestic violence deaths later - the Department of Justice is to introduce new legislation to make it a legal requirement for a domestic homicide review to be carried out after every domestic violence death to identify lessons to be learned and help prevent future tragedies. A number of health and justice agencies would be involved in the reviews.

However, the PSNI Chief Constable has warned that while he is supportive of the introduction of DHRs, the police service has resource issues. "The introduction of DHRs in Northern Ireland is a policy area currently being considered by the Department of Justice. PSNI would be supportive of their introduction, however cognizance would need to be given to other unique demands which already exist for PSNI including, in particular, legacy matters," Mr Hamilton told Policing Board members.

Policing Board member Dolores Kelly said she was "deeply troubled" by Mr Hamilton's comments.

She added that the domestic homicide reviews, which were introduced several years ago in England and Wales, were vital to saving lives.

"I was very surprised by the comments from police. We can't not do anything. I am well aware of the pressures on the PSNI, but we are lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to protecting women, men and families from domestic violence," the SDLP MLA said.

She added: "This is about saving lives. I can't fathom how the cost would be so high. Just catching the culprit cannot mean that the case is then closed. These DHRs would save lives in the here and now.

"The Chief Constable always talks about keeping people safe. Well this is about keeping people safe."

Mr Hamilton agreed that DHRs provide "a mechanism to establish what lessons are to be learned from a domestic homicide, particularly in relation to the way in which local professionals and organisations work individually and together to safeguard victims."

He added: "DHRs seek to identify and implement lessons learnt ... to prevent domestic violence and abuse homicide and to improve service responses for all domestic violence and abuse victims through improved intra and inter-agency working."

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