Murders 'could increase in Northumberland' if service closes, say campaigners

PCC Vera Baird criticised for failing to keep Alnwick-based Cease24 domestic violence service open as it faces a lack of funding

Northumbria Police Commissioner Vera Baird
Northumbria Police Commissioner Vera Baird

More murders could be committed in Northumberland homes if a threatened domestic abuse support service is closed, supporters have warned.

Charities and MPs are desperately searching for new funding for Alnwick-based Cease24 and its independent domestic violence advisor (IDVA) service.

Cease24, which is run by national charity Victim Support, is set to shut down on August 31.

But its supporters warned in a stark letter that its loss “will lead to an increase in ‘domestic homicides’ in Northumberland”.

The service, which helps some of the estimated 15,000 adults and 2,000 children in the county who experience domestic violence each year and also employs a worker to support children living in violent relationships, needs £230,000 a year to operate but funding has dried up.

In a joint letter to local politicians and public figures, representatives of Ashington’s Women’s Health Advice Centre, rape crisis group Grace, Northumberland Refuge and Hexham’s 608030 domestic violence charity have called for the funding gap to be filled by Northumberland Council County, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Vera Baird and county health chiefs.

The charities wrote: “We believe Northumberland will become the only county in England that does not have an IDVA service.

“We aren’t concerned only with the loss of services to the community.

“Cease24 participates in Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences and supports victims and survivors attending specialist domestic violence courts. Without Cease24 these services will not exist.”

The letter adds: “Without the IDVA service in place it is more likely that individuals will be killed by their partners. This will lead to an increase in ‘domestic homicides’ in Northumberland.”

Mrs Baird has put domestic violence at the forefront of her agenda since taking up the PCC role for Northumbria, and Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick, said she should be doing more.

“I am becoming increasingly concerned about the very real threat that there will be no service or support for high-risk victims of domestic violence, and their children, in Northumberland from the start of September,” he said.

“The PCC despite saying that domestic violence is her top priority, does not seem to have been forthcoming with real support for people whose lives are at risk in my constituency and the rest of Northumberland.”

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy County Council leader and chairman of the Safer Northumberland Partnership, said his authority had wanted to contribute but partners failed to also put up the cash.

He added: “I wrote to the PCC at the beginning of July expressing our concerns for the future and inviting her to meet with me and discuss options to maintain the service in the short term and options for the long term sustainability of victims.

“In the meantime we are continuing to work with partners on a number of short-term arrangements to respond to the cases which unfortunately continue to be presented.”

But Mrs Baird said the council should be funding the service until April 2015, when her budget will include more provision for victims’ services.

She added that she had responded to both Coun Ledger and Sir Alan’s correspondance.

“We have no budget to fund any IDVAs anywhere this year,” Mrs Baird said. “Northumbria Police has had 26% of its funding cut in four years with a £13.6m extra cut imposed last December with immediate effect.

“The public is well aware of the steps the Chief Constable and I have taken to try to keep police officers on the beat, including closing buildings and reorganising Area Commands.

“Even so we have to cut around 200 police staff and 160 police officers and clearly if there were any funding available it would have to be allocated to keeping those in place.

“The police budget was presented to all six local authority leaders last January, including Northumberland’s, and they all understood and accepted its accuracy. These services can save lives and the county should fund them for another seven months.”

The letter’s authors said the closure would see them struggle to cope with increasing referrals for high risk clients, while other victims could choose to stay in relationships rather than report violence.

Dr Alistair Blair, chief officer of Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said the organisation was not responsible for commissioning the services Cease 24 provides but was still financing the Women’s Health and Advice Centre.


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