Domestic Abuse Commissioner responds to new report revealing the scale of domestic homicide and suicide

The Domestic Homicides and Suspected Victim Suicides 2022-2023 Report, released today, examining domestic abuse related deaths in England and Wales has shown the scale of domestic homicides, and for the first time has recorded an increase in suspected suicides by domestic abuse victims.

The report examines all deaths identified by police as domestic abuse related to improve understanding of risk indicators, victim and perpetrator demographics. The unique dataset collects detailed information on these deaths not available from any other source to help police and partners improve their response to domestic abuse, domestic homicide and victim suicide following domestic abuse.

The annual report is the third of its kind produced by the national Domestic Homicide Project, a Home Office funded research project led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and delivered by the Vulnerability Knowledge and Practice Programme (VKPP) in collaboration with the College of Policing. Academics, including staff from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) seconded to the VKPP, have led the research in partnership with police.

As well as providing detailed analysis of domestic abuse related deaths, the project also worked with bereaved families of victims, who continue to be a key driver for change across the criminal justice system.

Read Executive Summary, Findings and Recommendations: Domestic Homicides and Suspected Victim Suicides Year 3 Report (2020-2023)

Key findings from the report

A total of 242 domestic abuse related deaths were recorded between April 2022 to March 2023, including:

  • 93 suspected victim suicide following domestic abuse (SVSDA)
  • 80 intimate partner homicides (IPH)
  • 31 adult family homicides (AFH)
  • 23 unexpected deaths
  • 11 child deaths
  • 4 ‘other’ deaths (individuals living together who are not family members or intimate partners)

Suspected victim suicides

The number of suspected victim suicides following domestic abuse has overtaken intimate partner homicides for the first time, which is likely due to increased awareness and improvements in recording information by officers, reflecting the progress made by forces following recommendations made by the project’s year two report.

Action has been taken since the second report to train and better equip officers in coercive control and to apply an investigative mindset when attending unexpected or sudden deaths; guidance to police in attending unexpected deaths, including suspected suicides, has been updated; and more Real Time Suicide Surveillance (RTSS) [1] systems are being established by forces to work with partners on suicide prevention.

Today’s report has also highlighted how forces need to continue to improve their approach to suspected victim suicides, including by recognising the high risk posed by coercive and controlling behaviour, speaking to family and friends to establish any history of domestic abuse, embedding professional curiosity attending unexpected deaths, and prosecuting perpetrators for domestic abuse after a victim’s suicide.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said: “Every life lost to domestic abuse is one too many and a failure by our systems. I am grateful to the Domestic Homicide Project for shining a light on this issue, and particularly to strengthen our understanding of domestic abuse related suicide.

“That these devastating deaths are better identified is encouraging, but Government must build on this, equipping the police and forensic investigators to take an investigate approach and properly hold perpetrators to account for their role in suicides.

“The more we know about domestic abuse related deaths, the closer we are to preventing them. This is a pivotal moment in this work and I hope this vital project can continue to raise awareness among police and other partner agencies.

 “In my office I have launched a Domestic Homicides and Suicides Oversight Mechanism to ensure lessons are learned from Domestic Abuse Related Death Reviews. I want to see cross-governmental leadership to ensure that all our public services – from health to children’s services – make ending domestic abuse related deaths a priority.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Domestic Abuse, Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, said: “The work of the Domestic Homicide Project is fundamental in broadening our understanding of domestic abuse related homicides, including suspected victim suicides.

“Every single one of these deaths represents an unfathomable loss for families, and I am eternally grateful to those who have shared their experience with us and continue to be an integral voice in our drive for change.

“Over the past three years, we have taken action against the recommendations made in previous reports, and I am encouraged that forces are strengthening their approach to suspected victim suicides following domestic abuse. Perpetrators should always be held to account for their abhorrent actions, and this should be no different when a victim has sadly taken their own life.

“It is important that we continue to develop our work with partner agencies, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, to improve posthumous charges and convictions in cases of suspected victim suicide.

“We will carefully consider the findings and recommendations of the report to inform the changes we are committed to delivering to improve our service for victims of domestic abuse.”

Lead Academics on the Report, Dr Katie Hoeger and Dr Lis Bates, said: “Our report lays bare the scale of deaths following domestic abuse, with at least one victim suicide every four days and murder by a partner or family member every three days. This demands urgent collective action and not only from police – these victims and perpetrators are known to many other agencies.

“We are pleased to see concrete developments from policing since our last annual report, especially in responding to unexpected deaths and suspected victim suicides. There is clearly an appetite, especially amongst policing leaders, to do more to prevent domestic homicides and victim suicides.

“We urge the police to continue to shine a spotlight on these deaths, as there remains a lack of consistency across forces about when and how information is sought and shared about domestic abuse history when there is an unexpected death. Policing can also build on successful cases to prosecute more perpetrators for domestic abuse after victim suicides.”

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris said: “Each person whose death is recorded in this report represents a life lost too soon and a grieving family who have gone through unimaginable pain.

“This government has made significant progress addressing fatal domestic abuse, not least through our Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

“We are particularly focused on those who die by suicide where there is a background of domestic abuse. And indeed we are renaming Domestic Homicide Reviews, to Domestic Abuse Related Death Reviews to ensure that these victims are reflected. I am currently working closely with partners across the criminal justice system to continue to improve our response to these crimes.”

[1] RTSS are information-sharing systems which allow police and local partners (e.g. health) to track suspected suicides in near real time, rather than waiting for the formal outcome of a coronial process. They allow local areas to better identify and understand suspected suicides to put in place preventative and support measures.