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May accused over domestic violence

Labour has accused ministers of "turning their backs on victims" of domestic violence after figures showed increasing numbers of perpetrators are getting away without a criminal record.

According to data from 15 police forces compiled by the Opposition, there were 3,305 community resolutions in domestic and sexual violence cases last year - up from 1,337 in 2009.

Advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) suggests the punishment - seen by critics as no more than a "slap on the wrist" - is suitable only for crimes such as minor criminal damage, low-value theft and anti-social behaviour.

In a speech today, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper will highlight Labour's commitment to end the use of community resolutions in such cases, accusing Home Secretary Theresa May of failing to act on promises to address the issue.

"These figures are deeply worrying," she is expected to say.

"Domestic violence is an incredibly serious crime. Two women a week are killed by their partner or an ex, and 750,000 children will grow up witnessing domestic violence.

"For the police to simply take a violent abuser home to apologise risks making domestic violence worse and makes it even harder for victims to escape a cycle of abuse.

"Labour has called on the Government previously to prevent the use of community resolutions for serious crimes, including domestic violence. Today's figures reveal that nothing has been done.

"This is just another sign that this Tory-led Government just doesn't take violence against women seriously."

Sandra Horley, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, said the figures were "deeply disturbing" and called for a public inquiry into police and state responses to the issue.

"When women make the extraordinarily brave step of reporting their partners to the police, they must feel confident that they have the full weight of the law behind them. Violent men must be held to account by our criminal justice system," she said.

However Greater Manchester Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, who leads for Acpo on the issue, said community resolutions were used in fewer than 1% of the cases of domestic abuse dealt with by police each year.

"These are a very small number but they are specifically tuned to low-level domestic abuse, particularly where the victim wants (this) course of action," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

A Home Office spokeswoman said a review had already been carried out into the inappropriate use of out-of-court settlements and all forces had been written to by the Home Secretary in the wake of the watchdog report instructing them to produce a domestic violence action plan.

"No government has done more to tackle the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse than this Government," she said.

"It is not acceptable for the police to use out-of-court settlements for serious criminality and that is why the Government is already reviewing how they are used."

In a wide-ranging address, Ms Cooper will also warn that community policing has disappeared "in all but name" in some areas as stretched teams are asked to cover the work of more than 9,000 axed colleagues.

Labour said analysis of official figures by the House of Commons library showed that 15,307 fewer officers were involved in CID, community relations and safety, dogs, traffic and "response" units.

But only 5,950 had been moved into neighbourhood teams where that work had been transferred.

Last week Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said funding cuts risked some forces having to "cut too hard and too deep into neighbourhood services".

Although staffing in neighbourhood teams is rising by an average of 8%, this masks a trend where officers are diverted from visible policing by paperwork and duties such as responding to 999 calls, guarding crime scenes or traffic duties, according to HMIC's critical report.

Ms Cooper will promise that a Labour government would offer communities "a guaranteed minimum level of neighbourhood policing".

It would also "legislate for the wider social purpose of policing" to ensure a return to beat patrols and better information with public bodies, such as hospital data showing knife wound hotspots.

"The choice is clear: we will support neighbourhood policing whilst the Tories seek to undermine it," she is expected to say.

"In many areas, there are neighbourhood police only in name.

"What people used to think of as neighbourhood police teams now have to cover 999 emergency response, traffic calls and detective work rather than being on the beat.

"With rising violent crime, a growing justice gap and continued anti-social behaviour in our communities, taking people's neighbourhood officers away and putting them in cars, or back at the station doing paperwork, is a retrograde step."


From Belfast Telegraph