Every year, women in the UK are killed by stalkers and domestic abusers—despite previously reporting them to the police. Unfollow Me is a campaign from Broadly to highlight the under-reported issue of stalking and domestic abuse in support of anti-stalking charity Paladin's calls to introduce a Stalkers Register in the UK. Follow all of our coverage here.
Exclusive data obtained by Broadly under British Freedom of Information laws reveal the shocking failures of police forces across the UK to protect victims of stalking and domestic abuse. Our data reveals that 55 women were killed in the three years between 2015 and 2017 despite reporting their killers to police for threatening behavior prior to their deaths.
Broadly asked every police force in the UK how many women had reported an abusive partner, ex-partner, or stalker to police for threatening behavior and went on to be killed by that individual in the last three years.
Our figures reveal a widespread police failure to protect victims of domestic abuse and stalking. Many of the women who reached out to police for assistance prior to their deaths could be alive today, had their concerns been taken seriously.
Some police forces performed worse than others when it came to protecting women from domestic abusers and stalkers. Nine women under the jurisdiction of West Yorkshire Police—the fourth largest police force in England and Wales—were killed by their partner, ex-partner or stalker over the last three years despite reporting them to the police. Two deaths occurred in 2015, four in 2016, and three in 2017.
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This was followed by Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which is responsible for policing in cities including Bath and Bristol. The force reported a total of seven such deaths occurring over the last three years. Police Scotland, the national police service of Scotland, told Broadly that six women were killed by a partner or ex-partner over the last three years.
North Wales Police told Broadly that there were a total of five deaths in their jurisdiction over the same time frame. Merseyside Police, which oversees policing in Liverpool and is the eighth largest police force in England and Wales, reported a total of four deaths over the three year period.
Laura Richards, the founder of the anti-stalking charity Paladin, says of the 55 deaths: “These figures are unacceptable. Many of the men identified through these figures will be serial abusers who target multiple victims, over time escalating to murder. These are the most dangerous of cases—they are murders in slow motion—yet women are still not being believed or taken seriously when they report to police.”
Thirty-one out of 45 territorial police forces in the UK responded to Broadly's requests for information, with the rest failing to respond within the statutory 20 working day time limit mandated by the Freedom of Information Act.
Twenty-nine forces were able to provide us with the specific information we requested. South Yorkshire Police told Broadly that our request exceeded the cost limit, and Hertfordshire Constabulary said that they did not hold the information on file.
You can find all of our data, and see how your local police force performed if you are based in the UK, on unfollowme.vice.com.
Some of the women identified by our data were killed by partners or ex-partners with long histories of escalating abuse against multiple women, like mother-of-two Kerri McAuley, 32, who was murdered by her boyfriend Joe Storey, 27, in January 2017.
Storey had eight previous convictions for offences against four women, including one case in which he punched a pregnant ex-girlfriend in the stomach. When sentencing Storey to life in prison, the presiding judge described the case as one of the worst examples of domestic violence the court had ever seen.
Violent and dangerous men like him are allowed to bounce from partner to partner, their attacks increasing in frequency and severity—and ending with sometimes fatal consequences.
Like McAuley, business development director Zoe Dronfield began a relationship with a man with a prior history of abuse. Unlike McAuley, Dronfield, 41, from Coventry, narrowly escaped with her life after her ex-partner Jason Smith brutally assaulted her in February 2014.
In an eight-hour ordeal, Smith stabbed Dronfield in the neck, stamped on her head, and slashed her wrists. Dronfield sustained a brain haemorrhage, a stab wound to her neck, a broken nose, and a cracked eye socket. Her right arm was also snapped.
Dronfield believes that she could have avoided her injuries if the police had taken her more seriously. After Smith was convicted of grievous bodily harm with intent and criminal damage, she learned that Smith was a serial perpetrator who was known to the police for his violent and controlling behavior towards previous partners. Dronfield had previously reported Smith to police for stalking, but says she felt ignored.
“In my case, police officers would make jokes while Smith was stalking me and making my life a misery,” she tells Broadly. “They’d say things like, ‘Why don’t you find yourself a nice boyfriend?'”
Dronfield says that Smith would call her hundreds of times a day and leave voicemails threatening to take his own life unless she met with him. “The police knew all of this but over and over again it was minimized,” she says, “until one day I decided to meet up with Smith and try to talk some sense into him. That nearly cost me my life."
West Midlands Police, the force responsible for investigating Dronfield's case, acknowledge that the shortcomings in their handling of her case. "We are very familiar with Zoe's case and recognize, as a force, we could have done more to support her at the time," Detective Inspector Jenny Bean told Broadly. "We have listened to Zoe and she has since worked with West Midlands Police, having presented at a conference on stalking so that police and partner agencies can learn from her experience."
Anti-violence campaigners argue that authorities desperately need to change how they treat domestic abuse and stalking victims. One of the women identified by our Freedom of Information data is Melinda Korosi, a 33-year-old woman who told Cumbria Police that her ex-partner Miklos Verebes had raped her. He was arrested and released without charge in September 2016, and subsequently broke into Korosi's house and battered her to death with a sharpened rock.
An investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), now known as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), judged that two Cumbria Police officers had cases to answer for misconduct. The pair were sanctioned by police management but retained their jobs.
"This data shows that even when women try to get help and report violent partners, they are failed," says Rachel Krys of the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
She argues that all professionals—not just police, but healthcare workers, teachers, and social workers—need to be trained in how to spot signs of abuse and provide help to women at risk of harm.
"Our culture of minimizing and disbelieving victims of violence must end," Krys says. "Women often have a very good understanding of the risks they face and they should be believed and supported when they raise the alarm and call for help.
Broadly asked the Home Office—the government department responsible for policing—to comment on the figures. "Domestic abuse and stalking are abhorrent crimes, which is why this Government is working to protect victims and stop perpetrators at the earliest opportunity," a spokesperson told us. "The police response to domestic abuse has improved in recent years."
"However we recognize that there is more to do, which is why we have committed to bringing forward a draft of a Domestic Abuse Bill to transform the national response to this horrendous crime. The Stalking Protection Bill will bring into law new civil Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs) to protect victims and halt perpetrators at the earliest opportunity." Under these measures, stalking victims can ask the courts to impose restrictions on their stalker, and breaching such an SPO would result in jail time. Paladin have welcomed the new policy, but does not feel they go far enough to protect victims.
While our data indicates a widespread failure to protect women, important lessons that might prevent future homicides are left unlearned because of the way police failings are investigated.
Police forces in the UK are often able to investigate their own officers for potential misconduct. While the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was set up to assess allegations of police failures, it can also refer cases back to the Professional Standards Department (PSD) of the relevant force for self-investigation. In essence, police forces are allowed to investigate themselves for misconduct, rather than being externally audited by independent investigators.
Broadly asked each police force to provide details of whether the killings they reported had been referred to the IOPC for investigation, and what the outcome of each investigation had been. Just 17 cases out of a total of 55 deaths were referred to the IOPC for investigation. In these 17 cases, Broadly was able to identify just four cases in which officer failings were found, and sanctions or training were proscribed. In at least six cases, potential failings referred to the IOPC were referred back to the police forces for self-investigation.
Richards believes that referring cases back to the police force for investigation creates an ameliorated picture of police misconduct in cases of stalking and domestic abuse. "The IOPC needs to have the confidence of the public to do an independent review, and there needs to be accountability," she says. "If you're not real about where things have gone wrong, how do things get better? How do you learn if you're sugar-coating the truth?"
"If I'd known about Smith's past history with police, I'd never have continued a relationship with him."
A spokesperson for the IOPC told Broadly: "Our specialist unit carries out a thorough assessment of each referral and determines whether an independent investigation or a local investigation by the force is appropriate.
"In the last two years or so, with additional resources, we have been carrying out significantly more independent investigations into serious cases. Forces are obliged to re-refer any conduct matters to us that emerge during the course of their investigation. They also send us any final investigation reports relating to deaths or serious injuries for review.”
Campaigners like Dronfield argue that a Stalkers Register would have helped to protect many of the 55 women identified by our data. Under the proposals, those with multiple convictions for stalking and domestic abuse would be tracked and monitored by police in a private database, and future partners warned of their history of violent offending.
Dronfield believes that such a register would have warned her off Smith and kept her safe. "If I'd known about Smith's past history with police, I'd never have continued a relationship with him," she says, adding that being on a database would have curtailed his violent outbursts. "His behavior escalated over time with different relationships because there was no accountability for his actions. In his eyes, he was above the law. The register would send a clear message that this kind of offending is unacceptable."
According to one recent study, 94 percent of female homicide victims are stalked prior to being killed. Abusive behavior commonly escalates over time, meaning that key warning signs would be evident to police and authorities if serial perpetrators were being tracked and monitored. The report's authors identify common markers of homicidal intentions, including threats of suicide, threats to kill, isolation of the victim, and strangulation assaults. ("You were trying to kill me, you were suffocating me until I nearly passed out," McAuley texted Storey before she was murdered.)
Anti-stalking campaigners also believe that police need to dramatically change the way they manage serial stalkers and domestic abusers. “There is an ingrained attitude in frontline police that needs to change,” Dronfield argues. “Some police forces are a ‘boy’s club’ that doesn’t take the victim’s experience seriously.”
Paladin has been leading the calls for a Stalkers Register. A petition for its introduction currently stands at over 150,000 signatures, and has been backed by parliamentarians from across the political divide, including Labour peers Baroness Jan Royall and Baroness Anita Gale, the Conservative peer Baroness Diana Barran MBE, and the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Brian Paddick.
Richards believes that a Stalkers Register would track dangerous individuals and prevent their behavior from escalating to murder or serious injury. “The same mistakes and patterns repeat,” she says. “We are told that ‘lessons will be learned’ [by police], but they rarely are.”
She says that a register that manages and tracks violent and dangerous offenders is the answer. “Urgent systemic change is needed where information about a serial perpetrators must routinely be put on the intelligence database, ViSOR (the Violent and Sexual Offenders Register), and serial perpetrators proactively managed via multi-agency Public Protection Arrangements, in a similar way to how sex offenders are currently managed in the UK."
“This will save lives and money."
If you are being stalked and you are based in the UK, you can call Paladin on 020 3866 4107. If you are based in the US, you can call the Stalking Resource Center at the National Center for Victims of Crime on 855-484-2846.
Update: This article originally stated that 49 women in the UK were killed. Police Scotland sent Broadly their Freedom of Information data after publication. The original figure has now been updated to 55 reflect that information, and additional information about the Police Scotland number has been added to the piece. Information about the Metropolitan Police's response has also been added.
This article originally appeared on Broadly.