Domestic abuse - did Herts police do what was necessary to help victim?
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“Broken promises, no compassion and returning me home to my abuser directly led to eight more years of suffering.” As Hertfordshire Constabulary makes changes to how it supports domestic abuse victims, following the suicide of Kellie Sutton, a mum who escaped after 13 years of torment tells us it’s “no thanks to Herts police”.
He punched me hard in my ear. Our baby and toddler were metres away. There was screaming and shouting, then the doorbell.
Through the spy hole, I recognised high-vis. With my heart racing and stinging ear throbbing, I opened the door.
“Thank God you’re here. Is it all over?” I still cringe at those words.
It wasn’t all over. For eight years.
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I was arrested, taken in a police car to Hatfield police station and detained in a cell for 10 hours.
I had batted him away from me with an open hand, in self-defence as he bellowed in my face, and I admitted it.
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On the way, I begged: “Can’t you just take me to a refuge?” One officer replied using the incorrect word: “What’s a refuse?” The other said: “It’s not our job to take people to refuges.”
I pleaded: “Don’t you have training in domestic abuse? I need your help. He has abused me for years. Look on the system. Please just help me.”
The booking in inspector said she wasn’t going to put me in a cell then did anyway - despite me explaining that I was a victim of an ongoing relentless hate campaign from my husband.
I was terrified. Alone, imprisoned and in pain, I was desperate to get back to my baby and toddler at home.
I saw the duty doctor for a headache due to my ear being punched. I asked to speak to the domestic abuse team. During a 45-minute call with a senior domestic abuse officer, I detailed everything.
I had been promised a lift home by a police officer, who said he would ‘personally make sure he took me home to make sure it was all settled’. I waited two more hours in reception, after being in a cell all day. He kept coming to tell me he was delayed. Nothing came of any of it.
When my sister came to collect me, she noticed my black bruised ear. She asked for a photograph to be recorded on file. Nobody had even asked me about it.
I was exhausted and massively mistrusting of the system. These broken promises, failings and lack of compassion from Hertfordshire police, directly led to me being stuck in that abuse for eight further years.
He had previously threatened to kill me, threatened to rape me, criminally damaged my property – cutting sleeves off clothes, breaking phones and given me a black eye that lasted three weeks, by punching me in the nose.
He called me unrepeatable names hundreds of times every day, tortured my dog, made despicable remarks about my late father and humiliated me in public.
He would slam me against walls, hold his hands over my mouth and round my neck and spit in my face. Once he told me he wouldn’t give me money to feed our family, unless I performed a sex act.
For years after my arrest, I would experience what I know now to be a trauma response around the police. I had palpitations and physically jumped whenever there was a knock at the door.
I relied on online shopping but the sight of delivery drivers’ fluorescent yellow through the door pane made my heart race. I was petrified.
Not being helped when you ask for help is always extremely damaging. Not being helped by police when you need it can be deadly.
If you hide violence, coercive control, threats, financial abuse and emotional harm, the psychological damage of being ignored when you finally dare to ask for help can be catastrophic.
This is partly because you are very ground down and feel like you can’t escape. Not being helped when you do ask, confirms the lie that you aren’t worthy, nobody cares, and you won’t ever get free.
My abuser even used the failed attempts for police intervention against me. He would say: “What are you gonna do? Get the police like last time? They won’t help you. Nobody will.”
I did get away eventually after 13 years of torment - by obtaining protective family court orders, following changes to legislation which criminalised coercive control. It was no thanks to Hertfordshire Constabulary, however.
I’m recovering well through trauma therapy, I am starting to believe in myself and learning to live again. I think I will always struggle with trusting others who are in positions of perceived positive support – including any future partner, health and social care professionals and the police.
Anonymity, police response and help
This newspaper has chosen to publish a shocking verifiable witness account while respecting her need for full anonymity – in the public interest of raising awareness, while maintaining vital safeguarding.
In doing so, we were unable to provide her identity to the police, who stated in a written response that they cannot comment on this specific case without those details.
Detective Chief Inspector Ben Wright from the Herts police domestic abuse unit said: “We are committed to tackling domestic abuse and ensuring the safety of victims and their families is always our first priority.”
He went on to mention a current campaign entitled ‘If home isn’t safe, we’re here to help’ and advised victims to call 0300 790 6772 for support and 999 in an emergency.
Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline is a confidential, free, support and signposting service for anyone affected by domestic abuse - call 08 088 088 088.
Alternatively the National Centre for Domestic Violence helpline on 0800 970 2070 assists women to prepare documents over the phone, which they can take to family court to obtain protective orders.