Refuges forced to turn victims away

A shortage of safe houses for domestic violence victims in the North-East is undermining a police campaign against the crime, it was warned yesterday.

A shortage of safe houses for domestic violence victims in the North-East is undermining a police campaign against the crime, it was warned yesterday.

Northumbria Chief Constable Mike Craik

Northumbria Police's two-month End the Silence initiative saw a similar number of incidents reported to the previous year - but more offenders locked up and taken to court.

Calls to a 24-hour helpline almost doubled on the previous year, from 268 to 501.

But Northumbria Police Chief Constable, Mike Craik told yesterday of his shock after a woman and her five children could only find safety if they travelled to Cambridge.

And staff at Wearside Women in Need said they found sanctuary for 640 people last year but had to turn away 1,521 because of lack of space. They said more refuge space was desperately needed.

Mr Craik is calling for more safe housing to be made available or for councils to find alternative places for abused people.

He said: "It can't be acceptable that someone should be sent so far from the rest of their family at a time of real distress.

"We will now work with partners to help identify what gaps exist in support services, especially refuge provision."

Wearside Women in Need director Claire Phillipson said local authorities in the North-East were failing to hit Government targets of one safe room for a parent and their children per 10,000 people.

She said: "The police campaign has meant more people are aware there is help available and that they will be believed.

"But we're still having to turn away people who wanted to come and stay with us but couldn't, and that is dreadful."

A new Wearside Women in Need refuge in Sunderland will give the city 30 safe spaces later this year, and Gateshead has 12 spaces available. North Tyneside Council said it has a range of temporary accommodation that can be used for anyone fleeing domestic violence, and had a refuge provided by Women's Aid.

Figures were unavailable for the other councils last night. Mrs Phillipson said: "Local authorities know what they have to do. A lot more can, should, and must be done." In December and January 4,679 abuse incidents were reported to police, compared with 4,691 the previous year.

But the number of crimes recorded as domestic abuse incidents went up by 61% - from 719 to 1,154 - which police said showed that thorough investigation was revealing more criminal offences.

Common law release for breach of the peace - where offenders are allowed home without charge - were down by 72% as the proportion of people charged or summoned increased from 16% to 48%.

Northumbria Police has been promised Government funding to evaluate its 24-hour Domestic Abuse Helpline, and Assistant Chief Constable Kevin Mathieson is optimistic that cash can be secured to continue the helpline for another 12 months.

Jane Keeper, director of operations at domestic violence charity Refuge, said: "There is a real shortage of refuge accommodation ... throughout the country. Women and children experiencing domestic violence need and deserve better protection. They also need more than a roof over their heads."

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Recent police action against domestic violence includes:

* A Sunderland man who had broken up with his girlfriend posted semi-naked images of her on the internet. Police got the material removed and arrested him at his workplace.

* A Northumberland woman saw the campaign banner outside Hexham Police Station and broke years of silence about her suffering at the hands of her husband.

* A middle-aged Washington man has been charged with assault and motoring offences after allegedly using his car to run his partner over.

* Newcastle's Home Safe Project has upgraded security at the home of a Newcastle woman who has a violent ex-partner. On his release from prison he broke his Community Order and was locked up again.

* A Tyneside man has been charged with assault even though his partner is unwilling to go to court. She has reported 34 incidents against him in five years.

* Detectives in Sunderland arrested a woman said to have forced her way into her ex-husband's home and attacked him.

* Magistrates in Berwick barred a man from entering England after he was charged with attacking his partner.

* Detectives supported a long-term victim of domestic abuse to give evidence against her partner at Newcastle Crown Court. The South Tyneside man was jailed for 12 months.

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Helplines

Victims of domestic abuse can get help by contacting:

The Northumbria Domestic Abuse Helpline: (0800) 066-5555

Northumbria Police: (08456) 043043

Legal assistance from the National Centre for Domestic Violence (24-hour helpline): (08709) 220704

In an emergency call 999

Abusers who want to change their ways should contact the Respect national helpline: (0845) 122-8609

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Husband stabbed his wife 20 times

A man who stabbed his wife more than 20 times after their 19-year-marriage broke up was jailed yesterday for four years and eight months.

David Howlitson, 42, slashed at estranged wife Wendy with an eight-inch knife until the blade broke, then picked up another and embedded it in her back, Newcastle Crown Court was told.

Surgeons removed the weapon, and she suffered "no significant permanent injuries" - but is plagued with nightmares. Howlitson had warned his family he was "going to do something they would hate him for".

The frenzied attack was at a relative's house in South Shields, near the couple's home in Stanhope Road.

Carl Gumsley, prosecuting, said that when the first knife broke he raised the second one "over his head and stabbed right down into her back".

Howlitson admitted wounding with intent.

Recorder Sean Morris said he was lucky not to be facing a murder charge.

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