When Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) started in England and Wales in April 2011, almost all of the reviews in the next few years, followed homicides which could unambiguously be described as domestic. Since then, in AAFDA, we have been working to improve the quality of these reviews and developed a model, unique in the world, affording the families’ proper status (see previous blog).
More suicide reviews, conducted under the DHR statutory guidance, are now taking place. There have also been near miss and unexplained death reviews. It is not known how many people are killed, take their lives (there are various estimates) or die early because of domestic abuse. Karen Ingala Smith has helped by starting to count femicides.
The domestic homicide review movement started in the USA and I will be going back there in June this year (for the fourth time) to learn more from their experience and to share AAFDA’s. It was there that I first heard my friend Professor Neil Websdale describe these reviews as following domestic homicides or deaths that are somehow traceable back to domestic abuse. Put like that, it’s a fair bet that there are many deaths that we don’t yet count as traceable back to domestic abuse because we have not yet illuminated the back story. How about deaths from homelessness caused by domestic abuse, or homicides disguised as accidents?
Although there were suicide reviews conducted prior to the December 2016 DHR statutory guidance, their number has risen because the new guidance made it much clearer that they should be convened. A notable early one was for Pritam (found hanging in 2013). But for this suicide review (broadly following the DHR guidance at the time), the world would not have known of the abuse she suffered. The inquest had not revealed this history.
Suicides seem like very silent deaths, not for the person taking their life, but for the living. When there is a murder, it’s big and loud and, despite some ignorant observations on why it happened, most can see that it’s unlawful and despicable. But for suicides, it’s not as clear to others. If there is a suicide note it may only be known to family and there may have been coercion impacting the content. As with murder, there are ignorant observations too. My brother took his own life following clinical depression (nothing to do with domestic abuse). A family friend looked me in the face and called him a coward adding that he had taken the easy way out. I was stunned and maybe that temporary paralysis was what stopped me from walloping him. I took pity on him instead. Those who do not always look favourably on those who take their own life, have little understanding of suicide, and might change their perception if they knew the back story. And here is where suicide reviews can help.
Domestic Homicide Reviews for suicides help re-balance the story as currently told by inquests and the media. They enable us to grasp the complexity underpinning such profound events and perhaps gain insight into the thinking of a person who takes their own life. They also help us understand the insidious and corrosive effects of coercive control. We hope that this learning transforms into safer futures for others.
Then there are unexplained deaths where perhaps the Coroner has drawn an open conclusion. Katie Wilding was found dead alongside the body of the man who a MARAC, held the month before, had heard had been abusing her. There is no doubt in my view that Katie’s death should attract a DHR which is about illuminating the past to make the future safer. Let’s turn the floodlights on and improve service provision because of what we see.
Reviews into suicides, near misses and unexplained deaths bring some difficulties for all involved which will be another blog soon.
Frank Mullane MBE is the CEO of AAFDA (Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse), which is a centre of excellence for reviews into domestic homicides and for specialist peer support. AAFDA provides specialist and expert advocacy for families with reviews after domestic homicide including in DHRs and trains professionals including in how to conduct DHRs. Frank is on the assessment panel for the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, is a member of the national Victims’ Panel chaired by a Justice Minister, a Home Office appointed reader of DHRs and sits on the national panel that quality assures these reviews. Frank’s sister Julia and nephew Will, were murdered by the husband and father in November 2003. His comments are his own.