Sussex domestic violence cases ‘timed out’ due to lack of time to complete investigations
Some 323 domestic violence cases in Sussex ‘timed out’ in the last financial year because police simply didn’t have time to complete their investigations.
Under current rules, police only have six months from the date of the assault to bring charges – no easy task given the complexity of some domestic abuse cases.
Figures published by the BBC showed that, nationally, 12,982 assaults flagged up as domestic abuse timed out between 2016/17 and 2020/21.
The Sussex figures were shared by Deputy Chief Constable Julia Chapman during a performance & accountability meeting with Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne.
There have been calls for an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Bill, to extend the six-month time limit to two years – a change which Ms Chapman welcomed.
She said: “If [the time-scales] are extended that will be a real benefit to victims across all cases but particularly in relation to domestic abuse.”
Mrs Bourne agreed, describing the six-month cut-off as ‘grossly unfair to the victims’.
Ms Chapman said that the cases which fell foul of the six-month deadline amounted to an average of one per cent across the last five years.
One of the big issues with such a short time limit has been that some people don’t feel able to report domestic abuse immediately.
Ms Chapman said that, of the 323 cases which timed out in 2020/21, most had involved violence without injury. But 42 per cent – around 136 cases – were reported after six months, giving officers ‘no opportunity to investigate and take it forward for a prosecution’.
The meeting was told that more than 5,000 domestic abuse crimes were recorded in Sussex during the last quarter, of which eight per cent were marked as ‘solved’ with an average arrest rate of around 40 per cent.
For grade one emergency calls, the arrest rate was more than 70 per cent.
When asked by Mrs Bourne if this was good, Ms Chapman said: “It’s very difficult to identify what good looks like because things fluctuate.
“We are always looking to increase both our arrest rate and solve rate. We do need to improve our solve rate – I would definitely want it to be higher than it is – and that’s something we’re constantly working on.”
Ms Chapman told the meeting that there had been a rise in reports of non-recent domestic abuse.
She said: “Hopefully that means that victims are more confident in telling us what’s happened to them and talking about previous history.
“[This] allows us to understand a true picture of what’s been happening with that victim and the best way that we can support them and keep them safe moving forward.”
Advice on how to report domestic abuse can be found on the Sussex Police website.
Karen Dunn , Local Democracy Reporting Service