Belfast Telegraph

Call for action to stop more women dying at hands of abusive partners

Victim: Connie Leonard
Victim: Connie Leonard
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Domestic violence support workers say they want a key scheme to be introduced in Northern Ireland to prevent more women losing their lives like tragic Maguiresbridge murder victim Connie Leonard.

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) and Women's Aid are calling for the introduction of Domestic Homicide Reviews, a multi-agency approach which already exists in the rest of the UK.

The initiative examines the lessons which can be learned from fatal domestic abuse incidents, in order to save other lives.

A quarter of all murders which took place here in 2016/17 (three) had a domestic abuse motivation.

Domestic Homicide Reviews are part of the Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland Strategy being developed by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health.

The support organisations' calls came shortly after the introduction of the new Domestic Violence and Abuse Disclosure Scheme (DVADS) scheme, which will allow potential victims to ask the PSNI about their partner's history.

In the absence of an Assembly, NIASW chair Colin Reid called for civil servants to "get on with" introducing "potentially life-saving" Domestic Homicide Reviews, and slammed Northern Ireland's domestic violence murder rate as "awful" and "unacceptable".

"We need to bring this in as soon as possible," he stated.

"It would involve organisations like the police, social services, Women's Aid and other agencies coming together when there has been a terrible tragedy to review what can be learned and how to do things better. The aim is to make women here safe."

Manager of the Women's Aid 24-Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline, Sonya McMullan, called Connie Leonard's death a "missed opportunity" and said her organisation "doesn't want one more woman to lose her life" to domestic violence. Connie was stabbed to death last year by former partner Peadar Phair.

"We need the Domestic Homicide Reviews so that we can learn from everyone who is involved in that person's journey," she explained. "The inquest process isn't enough, there have to be specific measures to ensure domestic violence issues of risk are identified appropriately."

A Department of Justice spokeswoman said it hoped to issue a consultation this spring.

She said: "The Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland strategy was consulted on and subsequently published in 2016. Domestic Homicide Reviews are being taken forward under the strategy. The legislation related to this is already in place, though would have to be commenced ahead of introduction of the Domestic Homicide Review process."

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