Dave Page, director of safer neighbourhoods, explained that Hammersmith and Fulham Council had a great history of tackling violence against women and girls. He felt that the service was very important as 2 of the last 3 murders in the borough had been related to domestic violence, whilst those experiencing or growing up around domestic violence were likely to suffer other problems. He explained that a significant change in approach to service delivery had recently taken place and he invited officers from the service the explain the new partnership.
Meghan Field and Helen Clutton informed the meeting that services for victims of violence against women and girls had been expanded significantly. The service had reorganised to become a shared service with both Kensington and Chelsea Council and Westminster Council. A violence against women and girls strategy had been developed which recognised the expectations placed on statutory agencies but also identified opportunities for additional services. These services had, since July 2015, been delivered by a group of agencies which had come together to form the Angelou Partnership. The partnership consisted of the following agencies: Advance, Women and Girls Network, Al Hasaniyah, African Women’s Care, Galop, Woman’s Trust, Solace Women’s Aid, Standing Together and Hestia.
Services delivered by the partnership included:
- Coordination of Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Standing Together)
- Coordination of the Courts (Standing Together)
- Impact Project to improve the response of the: Police, Crown Prosecution Service, Probation Service and Magistrate’s Court response (Shepherds Bush Housing Group, Advance, Standing Together)
There were also a range of pilot schemes:
- The Perpetrator Pilot
- The Harmful Practices Pilot
- The FGM Pilot, and
- The Social Care Pilot
The partnership had been set a target of working with 3,000 women and girls in its first year, and after just its first 3 months of operation it had managed to see 900 people. Referrals had increased by 30% compared to its predecessors and 92% of those contacted now engaged with the partnership. Those using services felt safer, suffered less abuse and enjoyed a better quality of life. The MARAC was now achieving 85% referral rates, which was very good, whilst the conviction rate had risen by 12.5% since the start of the service. The Impact Project had also obtained the first European Protection Order from a British Court.
Councillor Holder asked whether the police service had issues with officers making judgements about women. Meghan Field explained that whilst this perception of the police existed, it was not true in Hammersmith and Fulham; indeed survivors consistently said good things about the way police dealt with them. That the police station also housed Independent Domestic Violence Advocates and staff working on the Impact Project helped to ensure that officers were treating victims appropriately.
Councillor Dewhirst asked whether the forecast fall in the conviction rate was significant. Helen Clutton explained that the variation related to a very small number of cases and so was not considered to be a serious concern, although officers were not complacent. She also explained that a focus on securing early guilty pleas had spared many victims from difficult experiences in court.
Councillor Dewhirst noted that there had still not been a conviction for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the UK, and asked whether this was a problem. Meghan Field explained that Hammersmith and Fulham benefited from good community support to prevent FGM; convictions would not, in her view, achieve any more than existing work, and indeed might cause people to resent or fear those trying to prevent it. Work with schools and men was ongoing to prevent FGM affecting the borough’s residents.
Councillor Holder asked what the key reasons for improved performance were. Meghan Field explained that the multi-agency response and closer working between officers had been very important. The fantastic culture amongst staff was also very important.
Councillor Cassidy asked whether online harassment was a significant problem, and how it was being tackled. Meghan Field explained that a specialist provider for young people had been commissioned and they worked extensively on this issue. The workers in that team also used modern technology to communicate with service users. A campaign to explain what a healthy relationship was would launch in April, in addition to the work already carried out in schools.
Councillors thanked officers for their presentation and congratulated them for their very good work in this area.