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Theresa May urges police to use powers to deal with domestic violence

Published 17/05/2016

Domestic violence victims are "still being let down" by police and reports are not being taken seriously enough, Theresa May has warned.

Addressing the Police Federation's annual conference, the Home Secretary said new powers for tackling the crime are not being used "anywhere near as systematically" as they could be.

She also announced that the issue of officers developing "inappropriate" relationships with victims of domestic abuse is set to be investigated.

Mrs May told delegates in Bournemouth: " The right skills, training and commitment to protect the vulnerable are still not held by every single police officer."

She said there are still instances of "shameful attitudes" that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found when it examined the matter in 2013.

"We know of officers who develop inappropriate relationships with victims of domestic abuse," she said. "They have ignored their professional duty and their moral responsibility."

Mrs May said she has asked Sir Tom Winsor, head of HMIC, to scrutinise the issue during investigations later this year.

In its report, published in 2014, the watchdog raised concerns about poor attitudes displayed towards domestic abuse victims, with some officers showing a "considerable lack of empathy''.

In one prominent case in the West Midlands, officers were inadvertently recorded on a voicemail system calling an alleged victim a "f***ing slag''.

Mrs May referred to previous findings by inspectors of "significant failings" that were letting victims down.

She said: " Victims who weren't treated with dignity and respect. And the shameful attitude of some officers towards victims who had suffered violence and psychological abuse.

"The officers who accidentally recorded themselves calling a victim 'a bitch' and 'a slag'."

The Home Secretary said police had "listened and acted", with "real improvements" achieved on the issue in the last two years but "there is still a long way to go".

Mrs May also highlighted "questionable and opaque" spending revealed through her review of the Federation's accounts in the last two years.

" Branches spending tens of thousands of pounds on presents for retiring federation representatives - gifts that ordinary rank and file officers would never expect to receive," she said.

"Other items - like £10,000 on an annual 'plain clothing allowance' in one branch - which defy explanation. The fact that some branches own what appear to be holiday homes, within an overall property portfolio worth £31 million.

"Members' subscriptions are not a slush fund for the fed or pocket money for its officials and I am sure ordinary members of the federation will be as concerned about how their money is being spent as I am."

The Home Secretary struck a less confrontational tone than her previous appearances at the event that have seen her face heckling after laying down the law to the association, which represents 122,000 officers at constable, sergeant and inspector rank.

Speaking on Tuesday, she said the federation has made "clear progress" since it accepted a review conducted two years ago.

There was also a softening in tone from federation chairman Steve White, who sought to draw a line under the kind of "gladiatorial contest" that creates "distrust and suspicion".

The conference observed a minute's silence to remember the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough disaster.

Mrs May concluded her speech by urging the 1,200 officers gathered and colleagues across the country to remember the tragedy.

She said: "Let it be a touchstone for everything you do. Never forget that those who died in that disaster or the 27 years of hurt endured by their families and loved ones."

In a response issued by the Federation later, Mr White said the organisation " couldn't agree more" that domestic violence is "a very serious issue in England and Wales and needs to be properly addressed".

On accounts, he said: " We know there is still more work to be done around the way the Federation looks after its finances.

"We absolutely know and agree that the members' subscriptions need to be treated with respect and used to support them in any way we can. A lot of those changes will happen once the regulatory changes are approved by the Home Office."

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