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Four domestic killings in NI since lockdown began, says justice minister

Tough new laws are being introduced at the Stormont Assembly and the worst perpetrators will face up to 14 years in prison.

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Police have told people suffering from domestic abuse they are still there to help (Niall Carson/PA)

Police have told people suffering from domestic abuse they are still there to help (Niall Carson/PA)

Police have told people suffering from domestic abuse they are still there to help (Niall Carson/PA)

Four domestic killings have occurred in Northern Ireland since the coronavirus lockdown began, the Justice Minister has said.

Police have also received almost 2,000 calls for help from domestic abuse victims in the region over three weeks during the pandemic.

The figures were outlined on Tuesday as Stormont debated tough new domestic laws that will see the worst perpetrators face up to 14 years in prison.

“Devastatingly, particularly for the families involved, there have already been four domestic homicides since the Covid-19 lockdown began,” Naomi Long said.

Temporary restrictions aimed at curbing the disease’s spread are forcing people to spend more time at home.

Mrs Long added: “It is important that our response is not temporary or fleeting as domestic abuse is neither.”

From April 1 to 21, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) received 1,919 domestic abuse calls.

Under the draft law, a person convicted in a crown court of the worst offending faces up to 14 years in prison.

Mrs Long said the most serious cases were more likely to involve a course of behaviour including psychological and physical abuse.

The Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill includes the creation of a new domestic abuse offence, allowing for heavier sentences where children are involved, and a stiffening of penalties for any offence where domestic abuse is associated with it.

Mrs Long said: “The need for this legislation has never been more clear.

“Abusers are wielding power over their victims because it is not an offence to do so.

“Now is our chance to change this by criminalising psychological and emotionally harmful behaviour, sending out a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated and that perpetrators will be punished.”

The sad truth is that thousands of people across Northern Ireland wake every morning feeling frightened, controlled, isolated, degraded, humiliated or ashamed, in their own homesNaomi Long

She said the effect on daily life could be devastating when home was no longer a safe place.

“The sad truth is that thousands of people across Northern Ireland wake every morning feeling frightened, controlled, isolated, degraded, humiliated or ashamed, in their own homes.

“They are always on their guard, waiting for the next attack, whether that be physical or psychological.

“Tragically, their abuser is someone they should be able to trust: a partner, a close family member, the person that sits across from them at the dinner table.”

She urged those in danger to call or email helplines, contact a friend or the police if necessary.

Detective superintendent Anthony McNally said spending more time at home can create potentially stressful situations.

He added: “As a police service, we want victims of domestic abuse to know we are still here to help you, despite the pandemic. You are not alone and we have not forgotten you.

“Despite the pandemic, victims continue to suffer at the hands of their abusers and, in the past three weeks, from 1st-21st April, we have received 1,919 domestic abuse calls.”

Stormont Justice committee chairman Paul Givan said the number of crimes was on the increase, hitting 18,033 in one year.

He said: “Home is where most people feel secure. It is a haven where you can relax with loved ones.

“For many men, women, young and old, home becomes the worst place to be.

“It is a person’s living nightmare and the crime is committed by someone who supposedly loves them and they should be able to trust.”

The latest stage of the legislative process was passed and the Bill will be considered by Stormont’s Justice Committee.

PA