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PSNI urged to amend sudden death form to include domestic violence history

"The fervent hope is for attitudes to drastically change to rid communities of this scourge but until that occurs many will suffer significant injury or worse. Tragically, there will be more deaths and the Northern Ireland figures are shockingly high compared to other jurisdictions."

The PSNI are being urged to amend the form completed by officers attending the scene of a sudden death when a post-mortem is required to include a section on whether there were previous reports or concerns of domestic violence.

Known as a P1 Form, it contains 31 enquiries for attending police including the deceased’s name, age and address, their family circumstances, when last seen alive, what type of accommodation they resided in, the location of death, were any marks visible on the body and if they had pre-existing illnesses.

The form also requires officers to establish if the deceased was taking medication and if they smoked, drank alcohol or abused drugs.

But there is nothing to highlight if there was a history of domestic abuse, whether prosecuted or not, or if concerns existed in this respect.

Arguably, inclusion of any domestic issues would be of equal importance to the deceased’s history as alcohol or drugs consumption.

The call to amend the P1 Form was heightened after the family of a domestic abuse victim were left confused and distressed when she was unexpectedly found dead in her home, yet the previous police attendances did not appear to have been factored in.

Information around the woman’s death was provided by her estranged partner – the same person she had been reporting for abuse.

The family of the deceased, who is not being named at this stage, struggled to understand why police did not consider the numerous domestic abuse calls attended by officers worthy of inclusion in the P1 Form, although noted it was difficult to know where it could have been written in the current format.

A close relative said: “We knew what was going on and did our best to intervene. Several times we thought we had her convinced. But we lost her. The PSNI also knew the situation, however, the abuse reports weren’t even touched upon as a potential cause of or leading to our loved-one’s death. Instead, it all appeared very straightforward and quickly moved on, despite our concerns.”

The PSNI were asked to confirm if there had been attendances with the woman in respect of alleged domestic abuse and given the family’s continuing concerns if a Domestic Violence Review has been activated?

A spokesperson replied: “The circumstances concerning this sudden death remain under consideration by HM Coroner. As such it would not be appropriate to make any comment while that remains ongoing.”

It has been confirmed the Coroner has since directed the PSNI to obtain further statements.

While cautiously welcomed by the family, the relative added: “At the very least our concerns should be heard and addressed at the outset.

“We are now approaching a year since this terrible loss and it has been extremely difficult to get answers. Sadly, domestic abuse was a major feature in our loved-one’s life and if that had been flagged at the time of death, things may have taken a different route.”

Retired PSNI Specialist Domestic Violence Officer Nuala Lappin supports the inclusion of a specific section on domestic abuse concerns in the P1 Form, describing it as “reasonable and sensible”.

Nuala, who is now a consultant in domestic violence-related issues and policies, spoke of the situations she encountered in her former role, not only from the perspective of victims, but also having studied the manipulating and controlling characteristics of perpetrators.

She said: “Many victims knew their lives were in danger but simply could not break free for any number of reasons.

“Domestic abuse is a cruel master which keeps tight control of victims, who become conditioned and, to some extent, accepting of the situation. Perpetrators deploy many tactics amid physical and emotional abuse, ranging from persuading victims they are mentally ill, isolation from family and friends, deprivation or restriction of medical treatment and controlling finances.

“It’s very much ‘behind-closed-doors’ leaving victims fearful they won’t be believed, or abandoned or ostracised if they speak out. That applies to both male and female victims. This is not a gender-specific crime, although females are statistically more likely to be at risk.”

Nuala continued: “The fervent hope is for attitudes to drastically change to rid communities of this scourge but until that occurs many will suffer significant injury or worse. Tragically, there will be more deaths and the Northern Ireland figures are shockingly high compared to other jurisdictions.

“Achieving justice for those who fall victim to this appalling, secretive crime is paramount. Mandatory indication or establishment of domestic abuse in the past by a simple inclusion on the P1 Form, could allow in-depth examination of the circumstances of death and, where necessary, appropriate action taken.”

The PSNI was asked if consideration could be given amending the current P1 Form and, while failing to address this, Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher replied: “Any death that is reported to us or brought to our attention as a Police Service is thoroughly investigated based on the evidence and lines of enquiry available, including ascertaining whether or not the victim has had a domestic violence history.

“Where a death has or appears to have resulted from violence, abuse or neglect a Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) can be commissioned. The current legislation that underpins DHRs in Northern Ireland, does not include reviews on instances where the cause of death has been suicide.

“We continue to work closely and collaboratively with our colleagues in the Department of Justice on the development the review framework.”

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