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Solihull Murders

Volume 723: debated on Tuesday 22 November 2022

Let me begin by saying that my thoughts are with the loved ones of Raneem Oudeh and Khaola Saleem. For a mother and daughter to lose their lives in this way is truly heartbreaking. It is of course the perpetrator who bears the ultimate responsibility for this sickening act. Equally, when something like this occurs, it is right that all the circumstances are thoroughly examined. That has taken place in this case, including through an inquest and an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

The failings and missed opportunities that have been identified are clearly unacceptable. I note that West Midlands Police has apologised to the family of the victims. The force has said that a number of changes have been made since then, including increasing the number of staff specifically investigating domestic abuse offences and the creation of a new team to review investigations. None of this can undo what has happened; nor can it take away the grief and devastation that this horrific crime has caused. What can and must happen is for every possible step to be taken to prevent further tragedies. We expect all necessary improvements to be made in full and at pace.

As a former practising barrister, I want to see massive change in this space. We need action, and we need to continue the action we have started. Cracking down on crime is a key priority for me, for the Home Secretary and for the Government as a whole. That includes the wide-ranging action we are taking to address violence against women and girls and domestic abuse through the tackling domestic abuse plan and the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. The police are central to this mission, and we will continue to recruit further police officers. We have committed to 20,000 new officers, of which we now have more than 15,000, but there is more to do.

I will finish where I started, by saying that my thoughts are with the loved ones of Ms Oudeh and Ms Saleem. We owe it to them to do everything in our power to prevent others from having to suffer what they had to suffer.

I welcome the new Minister; it will be a pleasure to stand opposite her at the Dispatch Box.

Last week, an inquest into the deaths of Khaola Saleem and her daughter, Raneem Oudeh, concluded with a verdict of unlawful killing. The inquest laid out all the ways in which the two women were failed by the police, culminating in the catastrophic and heartbreaking failure to respond to 999 calls on the night of their murders. The police failed to respond to domestic abuse reported by Raneem. They failed adequately to respond to reports from paramedics and neighbours. They failed to record and investigate the crimes. They failed to make an arrest. They failed to safeguard the two women. They failed adequately to train their officers. They downgraded Raneem’s risk, and these two women were killed.

Since this case in 2018, far from improving, the number of domestic abuse incidents has risen and the number of prosecutions has fallen. This is not merely an historical case. Today, and every day, women will call the police and no one will come. The Minister has just said that she wishes to do everything in her power. Will her Government, as they have done with burglary, commit to every single domestic abuse incident receiving a police response? What will she do to monitor that?

Why was this man not being properly monitored or managed in the community? This is the case with thousands of other violent perpetrators. We are currently not managing and monitoring even the worst repeat offenders of this crime. Why not?

Following last week’s autumn statement, the Home Office will have £1 billion less to spend over three years, including on policing and domestic abuse. The Independent Office for Police Conduct highlighted that police resourcing issues were part of the problem in this case. Given the failings exposed, and given the squeezing of police budgets, how will the Minister guarantee that the service will not decline? How will the Government ensure that the police are held accountable for their inaction?

The so-called Bill of Rights poses a threat to the article 2 inquest process that helped to expose the failings in this case. Do the Government wish that these failings had remained in the shadows, unknown, to allow the deaths of further women? Will they commit to oversight mechanisms to look at police failings in relation to femicide?

In the words of Nour Norris, Khaola’s sister:

“The inquest has revealed the full horror of police failings, but there is so much more yet to achieve”.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her work and her commitment on this issue, and I will continue in that vein. This case is tragic, and we have to work together to make sure we have as few similar cases as possible. I do not want to see another case, as one more death is one too many.

The IOPC undertook an extensive report and made recommendations. I have looked at it, and some of that work is already being implemented, but it is not enough. We need work at ground level, and we need better policing. Each police and crime commissioner has significant funding to make a real difference. It is about local police and crime commissioners working with police officers to implement better training.

I remind the House of the extensive £695.6 million funding settlement received by West Midlands Police. There are sufficient funds, properly managed by the local police and crime commissioner, to ensure that this does not happen again. I agree that every domestic abuse incident needs to be properly looked at by the police. We need thorough risk assessments, and they need to be followed with proper training. This Government are implementing the most significant investment in training in this area, and I look forward to further increases, with West Midlands and all other police forces taking on board the plans this Government are undertaking.

Before I sit down, I should also say that tackling perpetrators of domestic abuse is an absolute priority for this Government and for me. That is why in the tackling abuse plan we set out a strategy for pursuing those who cause these harms—more knowledge, more intelligence and more training. With this plan, we have committed £75 million for work with perpetrators, including continuing to build on our previous investment in perpetrator interventions, and we are looking to ensure that the police have all the tools they need to identify the most violent and dangerous perpetrators. Domestic abuse, which leads to death in many cases, often caused by a family member or former partner, has to be tackled, and I am committed to doing that.

I have met Khaola and Raneem’s family, and seen at first hand their quiet dignity, clear love for one another and desire to see something good come from their loss. When I visited in the aftermath of the murders, the family raised concerns with me about policing resources in Solihull. In recent years, the police and crime commissioner has systematically removed police officers from Solihull to other parts of the west midlands, despite Solihull paying more than its fair share through the precept. In addition, the previous PCC even threatened to close the main police station in the town centre. We owe it to all victims of crime to ensure that Solihull gets its fair share, and the Labour PCC should announce forthwith that Solihull will get a new police station, and quickly.

I am impressed by my hon. Friend’s commitment to his community and to this cause. I would like the local PCC to look carefully at how he spends his money. We need to look carefully at prioritising the most serious worries, which are threats to life and threats to property. There can be no greater threat to life than that illustrated by these tragic deaths.

I commend my own local force and the chief constable for leading good work in Avon and Somerset. As the Minister is talking about policing, will she tell us how many forces are still not providing domestic abuse training to officers? The figure was recently nine, but has that gone up or down?

I understand that more than two thirds of forces have implemented the new training. Frankly, that is not good enough, and I know that the Home Secretary is keen to work with me in this area. I wish to remind the House that for the first time we have a national policing lead for tackling violence against women and girls—deputy chief constable Maggie Blyth. Curiously enough, I was supposed to be meeting her at this very moment. I will reschedule that meeting as a matter of priority. The Government are giving the extra investment, with £3.3 million to expand domestic abuse training for police, and we need to make sure that that is implemented in each and every force.

The facts of this case beggar belief. Ten separate complaints were made to the police about incidents of domestic violence, and four calls were made on the night. I have read the IOPC report carefully, and it finds there was a failure to carry out sufficient intelligence checks, a failure to record and a failure to make the right recommendations. Ultimately, however, the outcome it recommends is increased training. Will the Home Office consider something like the criminal justice scorecards that it is pioneering in areas such as rape, to show the performance of individual police forces, so that members of the public can have faith in their local force?

I am interested in those ideas and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. Training is the key. This case was heartbreaking. How many of us listened to the press meeting on Friday last week and to the tragedy of this? It simply did not need to happen. The police need to be better trained. That comes from the top, not only from Government but from the local PCC. We do need proper training in place. When a person—invariably it is a woman—says that they are in fear of losing their life and even says that somebody might be coming round with a knife, as happened in this case, the police need to take it seriously.

I would like to send my condolences to the family and loved ones of Raneem and Khaola. A report from Refuge last year identified that black women are less likely to be referred to a refuge by the police. On the night of her death, one of the victims made her 10th call to the police. Can the Minister explain why the response to black women is so inadequate? Is cultural sensitivity included in domestic abuse training?

Training does include those issues. It is about time that people who work in this field do not look towards colour as being an excuse for non-activity. This Government take the matter very seriously. It does not matter what colour, creed or sex a person is; if they need the police’s help, they need the police’s help. I expect those themes to be included in proper police training.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the loved ones of Raneem and Khaola. I am backing the campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) to keep Solihull police station open. I am also campaigning to open up a front desk at Chelmsley Wood police station. Does the Minister agree that the security of our constituents has to be above party politics? The police and crime commissioner has the resources; he needs to commit to protecting our constituents.

I am grateful for the question asked by my hon. Friend, who is a parliamentary and local colleague. We do need to focus on proper policing: the threat to life is just so important. I will do everything I can to ensure that this matter is not party political. I would welcome working with any Member of this House if it meant that we could stop just one death—but I want to stop them all.

The facts of this case are horrifying and heartbreaking. I echo the remarks that have been made about the need for basic policing and ask the Minister to consider mandatory training. I think that this is a reminder that domestic abuse and violence against women is still endemic in our society. What we really need is an educational approach; a public information campaign to remind us all of how bad it is and what we—every citizen, not just the police— should be looking for.

The Government are doing that at the moment. The “Enough” campaign has had quite a high profile on social media, with a great deal of take-up. The work of tackling violence against women and girls is very serious. In July 2021, we published our new cross-Government programme on the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. That includes the tackling domestic abuse plan published in March 2022. As a result of that there will be specific pieces of work on education and, I hope, training within the police, but education of the population has been brought forward. I know, from discussing this with young men across the country, that they have taken up the “Enough” programme and campaigned on it really seriously. The message is hitting through, but it is just the start. I want to do more.

May I associate myself and my party with what has been said. My thoughts and prayers are with Raneem, her mother and her family. The 999 calls in relation to the Solihull murders are indeed harrowing and frustrating. Raneem, 22, stated, “When I call 999, they cannot come quickly enough.” She rang 999 six times in the hours before she was killed. Does the Minister agree that the murders of Raneem and her mother were entirely preventable? Those calls should have been red-flagged. There were six 999 phone calls, but there was no answer. The police should have taken quicker action to ensure that the two victims were kept safe from the dangerous man and the abuse that he inflicted on them. We must do better. We can do better.

What is worrying about this case is that there were obvious markers—not just one or two but many. I know that that is something that West Midlands police are working hard on. Nobody could fail to be moved by those 999 calls, which were on all the TV channels—the soft voice of somebody who was about to be murdered, but who was ignored. That must never happen again. The fact that a person speaks softly, calmly, or in a way that the police are not used to, should not be a barrier to listening to the words that they are saying.