Grim reality of risks faced by domestic violence victims in Sussex

3:10pm Monday 17th December 2012

By Ben Parsons, Crime Reporter

Domestic violence is going on at a terrifying rate in Sussex. The Argus estimates at least 60 cases have ended in death in the last 30 years. With cases expected to rise at Christmas, police are calling on our readers to save lives by reporting fears they have of crimes within their midst. BEN PARSONS reports.

“I SEE our role as murder prevention.”

Detective Inspector Miles Ockwell was speaking as Sussex Police launched its Christmas anti-domestic violence campaign.

After the force made headlines by Tweeting every incident reported as it happened on Friday, December 14 a journey through The Argus’s archives today lays bare the grim reality of the risks faced by the victims involved.

At least 60 women have been killed by their husbands, partners or ex-partners in Sussex since January 1983 – an average of two a year for the last thirty years.

Even DI Ockwell is surprised by the figures.

He says: “Two a year is a lot of lives and a lot of families affected.

“I want it to be zero.

“Our everyday work is about managing that risk and preventing more murders from occurring.”

In Brighton and Hove alone, in the last 12 months 400 high-risk cases have been referred to twice-monthly boards held to decide how to keep the most vulnerable victims safe.

As head of the city police’s anti-victimisation unit, DI Ockwell chairs the meetings, known as multi-agency risk assessment conferences.

Positive news

He says this year’s numbers are a 25% rise on the previous year, though that could be positive news as it means more agencies could be identifying possible cases.

He has spoken publicly before on ways to combat domestic violence – including the so-called Claire’s Law, currently being piloted elsewhere in the country, which allows people to find out if their partners have a record for abuse.

DI Ockwell says: “It is not being piloted here but it doesn’t prevent us from making the sort of disclosures that come into effect.”

He says the measures could beneficially be extended to include neighbours, so they know if they hear problems next door that it may be more than an innocent argument.

DI Ockwell estimates between 20 and 30 cases a day are reported in Brighton and Hove.

Reported incidents

Part of the challenge for police is that they believe only about 25% of incidents are reported.

So far in 2012 there have been 12,436 incidents reported across all of Sussex. If that represented a quarter of the real total, there would be a total of 49,744 – 136 a day, or more than five an hour.

Five per cent of all incidents take place over the Christmas period – and every year police concentrate their resources on this period.

At a press conference yesterday Sussex Police launched its annual Christmas campaign, Operation Cranberry, with an appeal to victims to make themselves known.

Katy Bourne, the newly elected Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, made a manifesto pledge to make domestic violence a priority.

She said: “While most of us are busy celebrating, there will be some families in Sussex who are dreading this time of year.

'Suffer in silence'

“We know many victims suffer in silence. This is something we want to change.

“It is vital victims feel confident in coming forward. We want to encourage them to seek help early on, before the abuse escalates.”

Domestic violence survivor Madelaine Hunter, 31, described her abusive ten-year relationship at the event.

She said her partner cut her off from her friends, and constantly criticised her, at one point making to throw her down the stairs.

She told The Argus that at times she feared she could be killed.

She said: “There was an attack in the kitchen. When I was in there I realised there were lots of knives in the kitchen, and I had to get out to a safer room.

“I remember being at the top of the stairs and him going back to push me down them.

“You have one bad day, and your life could change.”

Her ordeal ended when she found the strength to leave her partner, and after she went to police they prosecuted him for assault.

The victims

Our trawl of The Argus archives turned up 60 cases where women died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners.

The real figure is likely to be even bigger, as an exhaustive search of every edition is not currently possible.

And the number does not include men killed by their wives, or children killed within the home – and does not include the dozens of attempted murder cases investigated by the police.

One case involved a former Argus reporter, Janet Hazle, who was shot dead by her husband in Crawley in 1996. He was jailed for life.

Johanna Croxton, 21, was killed by her husband, Jonathan, in Hastings in 2005, when he realised their marriage was over. He was jailed for life.

Susan Goswell had been repeatedly threatened by her husband Roger before he stabbed her to death at their West Chiltington Common home in 2007. Police said he had cracked after learning he was not his wife’s first sexual partner.

Penny Beale was 31 when her partner Michael Moffat beat her to death at their home in Hastings in November 2001.

Neighbours heard her screaming, “Don’t hit me.”

Her mother runs a website, pennybealememorialfund.org, offering advice and information about domestic violence.

How to get help

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