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Solihull Murders

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2022

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 22 November.

“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, the Home Secretary and 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 whom 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 having to suffer what they had to suffer.”

My Lords, this terrible tragedy highlights the fact that although domestic abuse crimes recorded by the police have been increasing annually by between 5% and 6%, prosecutions have slumped for the fifth year in a row. What are the Government going to do about the endemic misogynistic culture among the police and prosecutors which means that they do not tackle these dangerous crimes against women, which can, as here, with unanswered and unresponded to calls, prove fatal?

I begin by saying that my thoughts are with the loved ones of Khaola Saleem and Raneem Oudeh. For a mother and daughter to lose their lives in this way is truly heartbreaking. We should bear in mind the perpetrator, who bears the ultimate responsibility for this sickening act.

The noble Baroness asked about misogyny in the police. The Government remain determined to tackle misogyny in the police. That is why the independent policing inspectorate was tasked with reviewing vetting and countercorruption arrangements in policing across England and Wales, looking in particular at what forces are doing to identify and deal with misogynistic behaviour. We welcome the report’s conclusion that the culture is improving. The findings about adverse attitudes towards women are unacceptable and I expect all forces to take action in response as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, tragically, these deaths were preventable. Does my noble friend the Minister believe that the police are appropriately trained in cultural sensitivities in relation to domestic violence?

I thank my noble friend for that question. Training includes those issues. I will quote the Minister in the other place yesterday, because she summed it up perfectly. She said:

“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.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/11/22; col. 158.]

So do I.

My Lords, in her remarks yesterday, the Minister also said:

“We need thorough risk assessments, and they need to be followed with proper training.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/11/22; col. 156.]

I am sure all noble Lords would agree. Can this Minister tell the House why some police forces have failed to carry out assessments and training of their officers? Can he give me any good reason why this training should not now become compulsory?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. We agree: it is incredibly important that the training reflects the gravity of these sorts of situations. We are taking action to improve this. I am sure she will be aware that we are supporting and funding the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth in her role as full-time national policing lead on this sort of subject. We are committed to funding the continuing rollout of the College of Policing’s Domestic Abuse Matters programme for front-line responders, and to adding VAWG to the strategic policing requirement.

On the training that has been developed by Maggie Blyth, which I think was released last December, so far only two-thirds of police forces have adopted it. That is not good enough. The Minister in the other place said the same and I am happy to repeat it.

My Lords, will the Minister say why it took until these last 12 months for the Government to recognise that violence against women and girls should be included in the definition of “serious violence”?

I am not sure that is strictly true. I do not wish to comment on the precise timings, but I repeat the statement I just made. The Government are taking violence against women and girls incredibly seriously and will continue to do so.

My Lords, the five officers in question have been served with management action by the Independent Office for Police Conduct over the missed opportunities. Can the Minister explain exactly what this means? Furthermore, the Home Secretary has instructed police authorities to make sure that they do all they can to investigate every single burglary. Can the same principles not be applied to domestic violence as well?

My noble friend is completely right. In fact, nine officers from West Midlands Police were served with misconduct notices, and the IOPC found a case to answer for five of them at level. They received management action; I am afraid I am unable to define what “management action” actually means. I apologise for that. I will try to find out more on the subject and, if I can, I will write to my noble friend.

My Lords, this case is horrendous. It makes me feel very sad that people are still dying unnecessarily under the laws we put in place in this Chamber. I inform my noble friend that, while I appreciate his answers to these questions, on the ground it simply is not happening. I am receiving lots of emails from women who have been asked by police officers to do their own investigations into domestic abuse, acid attacks and stalking; I guide them to go back to the police and ask the questions. The inspectorate says it will attend every burglary; I agree with my noble friend that it should do so for every crime. No victim should be asked to investigate the horrific crimes that they are going through.

I completely agree with my noble friend. It may help if I go through the list of recommendations made by the IOPC to West Midlands Police in this case. The learning recommendations concerned domestic abuse risk assessments being completed without intelligence checks and misunderstanding by officers around when such risk assessments would be reviewed by their public protection unit. Other recommendations were that the force should consider PPU oversight of all domestic abuse cases with repeat victims, and further training around the use of domestic violence protection orders—DVPOs—and domestic violence protection notices.

My noble friend is quite right that no woman should be asked to undertake her own investigation; that is absolutely absurd. It is for the police to do it. The police have recognised it, the IOPC has published recommendations and West Midlands Police in particular is acting on it. I hope all other forces do too.

My Lords, the Minister says that every force should carry out this training, yet we know that a lot are not. Between the Home Office, the inspectorate and the police forces, where is the accountability in the system to make sure that this crucial training takes place?

As the noble Lord is well aware—I have said it many times from the Dispatch Box—police forces in this country remain operationally independent. That is right, but of course the PCC is also the interface here between the public and the police. The statement on this case by the West Midlands PCC, Simon Foster, was very robust and made some solid points. With the noble Lord’s permission, I will quote a bit of it:

“My Police and Crime Plan makes it clear that West Midlands Police must impose bail conditions on perpetrators rather than releasing under investigation, make full use of civil protection orders and restraining orders and make arrests for breach of non-molestation orders.”

He goes on at some length and I will not repeat it all, but I think that is the appropriate response. I commend him on his actions and urge other PCCs to follow suit.

My Lords, police failed repeatedly to come to the rescue of Raneem Oudeh and her mother, despite 10 complaints and six 999 calls, including on the night of their death. We have heard the police pledge to attend every single home burglary, but I just wonder what the priorities are here. Surely, saving the lives of women in these situations should be of equal importance as attending burglaries, if not more important. Why are women just not listened to by the police?

I think it is of rather more importance than investigating burglaries; we should all think that. I do not necessarily agree that it is not a priority for the police forces. The police forces are certainly saying the right things but, as I have already said from this Dispatch Box, I, the Minister in the other place, the Home Secretary and the Government think they have more to do.

My Lords, is not the problem here—the difference between burglary and domestic violence—the attitude of police officers towards women? What are the Government doing about that?

I went through some detail on that, as regards the strategy on tackling misogyny in the police. I agree that there are some clear failings on this, certainly in regard to this case. The way the police failed to investigate some very clear signals was clearly unacceptable, but the Government are determined to tackle the misogynistic culture that has been identified.

My Lords, police attendance on a crime-by-crime basis is a difficult thing to sustain. The police should attend all reports of crime if the victim wants them to or if it is a very serious event, which is something I have always pursued, but should the Government not also work with the College of Policing to share the best evidence about what highlights those most at risk? For example, Professor Larry Sherman, recently at Cambridge, highlighted a high correlation between suspects who had threatened suicide and people who eventually became murderers of victims they had previously threatened. We had previously been told that threatening the victim prior to their murder was also an indicator. Both matter, but the police’s response needs to be based on good evidence. I am not convinced that the college has yet got that connection between the evidence base and passing that on to the police to share, so that their training improves.

I thank the noble Lord for that, and commend him for investigating all the crimes when he was still actively policing. I will take back his suggestions on the College of Policing because they make sense. Obviously one of the college’s primary duties is to ensure that best practice is shared and disseminated.