As I read the findings of the IPCC last week on the police failings surrounding the killing of Becky McPhee, I was reminded of how the police had similarly failed me when I had sought their protection after I had fled a situation of domestic violence. This case also illustrates the painful reality behind why hashtags such as #WhenILeft have been such an important way for survivors to speak out about the barriers to leaving a violent partner.
In July 2010, Becky McPhee reported her violent husband, Paul Holmes, to the police, noting: “I think it is only a matter of time before he does kill me”. This came after 17 separate reports of violence including claims that Holmes kicked down the door of their home in Anfield. Alas, this did not prove sufficient warning for the police to take action. Holmes broke into Becky’s home and fatally stabbed her over 21 times. Almost two years after her killing, the IPCC has published a damning report on the failings of Merseyside police.
I recall going to the police in fear of my family who were repeatedly coming to my place of work, it made it impossible for me to carry on with my daily life. Their behaviour, from forcing me into a marriage which I had explicitly objected to, to threatening my well-being for not being a “good wife”, had all heightened my anxiety. I still shudder remembering being told by police: “if your family have never harmed you before, why would they do so now?” It seems a victim’s voice wasn’t enough then and still isn’t enough now.
The difference is that my family, finally, after much emotional blackmailing, let me go. Becky McPhee’s estranged husband refused to do so. Indeed this is also a familiar pattern. Research by the Ava Project indicates that leaving a partner will not necessarily mean that the violence will stop. A woman may be stalked if a partner refuses to accept the end of the relationship. And we all the horrifying statistic of two women being killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales every week. In its report on the Becky MacPhee case the IPCC reported: “the behaviour of Paul Holmes matched the classic patterns of someone at the end stages of an escalating cycle of domestic violence, but this was not recognised.”
In such instances children may also be at risk. Only recently, Yasser Alromisse forced his way into the house of his estranged partner, Lindsey Shipstone, and fatally shot his daughter, Mary Shipstone, in the head. Lindsey Shipstone, just like Becky McPhee told Sussex police she was concerned about a possible attack by her estranged ex-partner. The police knew Alromisse had a history of violence and should have taken her concerns seriously.
As a survivor, it worries me greatly that there still seems to be a real disjoint between the needs of the women for protection and the police response.
The Counting Dead Women site has been documenting the fatal consequences of male violence against women and girls. The founder of the site and Chief Executive of Nia, Karen Ingala-Smith noted: “I have launched this campaign, “Counting Dead Women” because I want to see a fit-for-purpose record of fatal male violence against women. I want to see the connections between the different forms of fatal male violence against women. I want to see a homicide review for every sexist murder. I want the government to fund an independently run Femicide Observatory, where relationships between victim and perpetrator and social, cultural and psychological issues are analysed. Ultimately, I want to see men stop killing women.”
The IPCC’s damning report provides lessons that must not fall on deaf ears. There has to be a strategic response to cases of violence against women where each part of the police force dealing with the case needs to be aware of previous incidences and can act accordingly. The IPCC noted that the incident manager, Grahame Abram, did not read the previous record of incidences and only became aware of the names Holmes and McPhee after she had been killed. It beggar’s belief that this is the level of policing women at risk of violence are being subjected to.
The IPCC report also makes clear that the police did not follow its own domestic violence policy. But the push to take violence against women seriously must be enforced by a lot more than policies. Indeed, polices are ineffectual without the leadership, drive and culture to make this a reality and this was sorely lacking in the case of Becky McPhee and as well as the many other cases where women are the victims of intimate partner violence. More needs to be done to ensure the police are effective in protecting women because enough is enough.
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Huma Munshi is a writer and poet. She is passionate about addressing inequality through her writing. She writes about feminism, tackling honour based violence, forced marriage, mental illness, culture and activism, She is a regular contributor at the F-Word, Open Democracy and Time to Change. You can follow her on Twitter at @Huma101. She sees writing as a mechanism to overcome trauma and connect with others.
- #WhyILeft Reflections on Leaving an Abusive Relationship (mediadiversified.org)
- Expendable Lives: A snapshot of how men hate women (mediadiversified.org)