The Police, The Courts And Domestic Violence

Submitted by Janine on Wed, 24/01/2007 - 21:58

When I was first active in feminist politics in the 80s and 90s, we did a lot of campaigning to change the Police's treatment of domestic violence victims. We complained about the Police's habit of dismissing violence as "just a domestic", of belittling the women who suffered it and indulging the men who meted it out. All this campaigning paid off - women won the right to be interviewed by specially-trained female officers, new judicial procedures enabled women to give evidence in a more sensitive way, and the Police changed their attitude and now take domestic violence more seriously.

Or do they? The horrific case of Wendy Billing suggests otherwise.

Last September, Wendy was stabbed to death in front of her two-year-old son by her former partner, Sean Francis, who then killed himself. Francis had a long history of violence against Wendy during their eight-year relationship, which the Police were well aware of.

He was arrested on 9th September for beating her, but despite his history, Ealing Magistrates' Court gave him a conditional discharge on 12th September.

Later that same day, Francis approached Wendy in the street - in breach of a restraining order - and threatened to kill her. He was arrested again and kept in a cell overnight. On 13th September, Brentford county court decided to let him go. He had not even been charged with threatening to kill Wendy, only with breaching the restraining order, but even that could carry a five-year sentence.

Less than a day later, he stabbed Wendy to death as she was picking up her son from nursery.

An inquest - and an internal Scotland Yard enquiry - will review the handling of this case. It is essential that this enquiry does not simply tear its hair out about individual failings in an individual case, but seriously considers whether the judicial system's 'make-over' on its dealing with domestic violence lives up to its hype.

I fear that without pressure from campaigners and genuine Police accountability, we can expect little better than a whitewash. Today, Wendy's family called for a full investigation. If they start a 'Justice For Wendy' campaign, they can count me in.

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