MLA’s concerns as femicide rate in NI is one of the highest in Europe
A strategy for dealing with violence against women and girls needs introduced “as a matter of urgency” an MLA has said, after it emerged that Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of femicide in Europe.
The rate of murders of women as a result of domestic violence in Northern Ireland is higher than in any other part of western Europe, and three times that of England and Wales.
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic 11 women have been murdered by someone they know.
In the last six weeks three men have been sentenced to life in prison for the murders of a female relative.
Last week a judge sentenced Stephen McKinney to serve a minimum of 20 years for the murder of his wife Lu Na, who was drugged and dropped into Lough Erne where she drowned.
The brutal murder of Alice Morrow, who suffered horrific head injuries had devastated her family.
Ms Morrow’s partner William Stephen Hutchinson (45) was sentenced to serve a minimum of 21 years for the killing of the grandmother, found dead in her flat in the Braniel estate in March 2019.
Jordan Kennedy appeared at Belfast Crown Court earlier this month and pleaded guilty to a charge of murdering his 39-year -old mother last April.
The 23-year-old, from Haywood Avenue in the south of the city, was told he will serve life in prison for stabbing Emma Jane McParland to death, with a minimum tariff yet to be set.
Many families are denied justice with the perpetrator taking their own life before they can face the court for their crime.
During an inquest held in February last year, coroner Joe McCrisken said the deaths of Giselle Marimon-Herrera (37) from Colombia, and her 15-year-old daughter Allison were “barbaric”.
The bodies of the mother and daughter were discovered in a flat in Newry on March 7, 2019.
Giselle’s partner Russell Steele (38), murdered her before raping and murdering her teenage daughter and then taking his own life.
Thomas Davidson, who had been charged with killing his partner, Kathleen Brankin, at a glamping resort near Limavady on July 12 this year, took his own life in Maghaberry prison where he was on remand for the murder.
The 37-year-old mother-of-one was found dead on decking at a camp site in Limavady just hours after the couple checked into the popular holiday spot. She had been stabbed to death.
In March of this year Ken Flanagan (26) murdered his mother, Karen McClean (50), and girlfriend Stacey Knell (30), in Newtownabbey, before killing himself.
Flanagan was considered a danger and had a violent history, and the father of Ms Knell’s child had raised concerns with social services in the days before the double murder suicide.
In 2017 the rural community of Maguiresbridge in Co Fermanagh was left shocked by the murder of popular musician Connie Leonard.
The body of her former partner Peadar Phair, who had a history of domestic abuse, was also discovered in Ms Leonard’s Abbey Road home.
Her son Conor, who lives with Down’s syndrome, was stabbed in the stomach trying to protect his mother.
Green Party MLA Rachel Woods said she was “shocked and extremely concerned” by the statistics.
She added: “The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act that criminalises domestic abuse and coercive control will come in to force next year.
“I worked to ensure that this legislation is robust, including putting a requirement for criminal justice agencies to be fully trained in dealing with domestic abuse, which is crucial to guarantee the effective implementation of the new law.
“If those investigating, prosecuting and deciding on these offences are not aware of the realities of domestic abuse and coercive control, the legislation will not serve to protect victims and survivors.
“But much more remains to be done to ensure that action is taken to protect women. The Executive has failed to bring forward a Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy for Northern Ireland, which must be put in place as a matter of urgency.” The PSNI announced earlier this year that it would be introducing a specialist strategy to deal with violence against women and girls.
Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally said: “We know that in Northern Ireland, on average, 70% of all domestic abuse reported to us relates to violence against women and girls, and we believe this to be still underreported.
“The Covid-19 pandemic, especially the lockdown periods, made those suffering from domestic abuse feel more isolated and vulnerable. People were locked in with their abusers and this environment led to a rise in crimes like domestic abuse.
“The figures of deaths in Northern Ireland relating to domestic abuse are concerning for all partners within the criminal justice system and society as a whole. We are determined to educate on the early warning signs and stop domestic abuse before it fatally escalates, taking vital learning from Domestic Homicide Reviews.
“Over 4,000 PSNI officers have already undergone training in preparation for the launch of the new domestic abuse legislation. Domestic abuse is not just physical, and coercive, controlling behaviour can escalate. Our officers will be trained in recognising these behaviours, how to safeguard victims of these crimes and how to bring offenders to justice.
“This legislation will have a hugely positive impact with a clear definition on what constitutes domestic abuse and provide further tools needed to arrest and prosecute offenders.
“One death as a result of domestic abuse is one too many. Over the Christmas period we will be sending out a strong reminder that nobody should feel like they have to suffer in silence.
“If they come forward to report abuse, intimidation or violence, they will be taken seriously and supported.”
In addition to the 11 people murdered since the start of lockdown, the bodies of three Northern Ireland women, murdered in violent attacks, have never been recovered.
Nexus NI offer counselling services and support to people who have been affected by sexual violence in any form. It can be reached at (028) 9032 6803 and nexusni.org. The Women’s Aid 24-hour Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline is at 0808 802 1414 and www.womensaidni.org