The PSNI and Minister for Justice have responded to a Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Motion seeking an in-depth review of all domestic violence deaths and while welcomed, some felt the overall point had been missed.

In April, members unanimously agreed to call for the Chief Constable to instigate an independent, strategic review into the handling of such deaths featuring potential domestic violence, particularly those deemed suicide or accidental.

The Motion, tabled by Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer, was driven after he learned of a long-term victim of domestic abuse, who was supposedly rescued from a suicide attempt, but her subsequent death “was almost casually and conveniently treated as such by certain authorities”.

He continued; “She never regained consciousness to explain what really happened. Those voicing concerns were ignored … This victim was failed by the PSNI, the Ombudsman and elements within the relevant Health Trust.

“Only the resolve of a few kept the fight going. Uncomfortable though it may be, a review is critical, given the apparent ease this case almost slipped through, unseen, unheard and unknown – much like domestic abuse itself.”

Seconding, Councillor Josephine Deehan, Independent, told members recent statistics show Northern Ireland is the highest for domestic violence in Western Europe, jointly tied with Romania.

The Motion was shared with the PSNI, the Minister for Justice, the Police Ombudsman, the Policing Board, the Commissioner for Human Rights and all district councils with a view to adopting the content.

Responses from several authorities were discussed at the most recent full Council meeting.

On behalf of the PSNI, Superintendent Lindsay Wilson acknowledged domestic abuse as “a horrendous crime,” continuing: “We will continue to work with key statutory and voluntary partners to identify best practice.”

Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHR) were introduced in December, 2020, but are not retrospective, and: “There is no current legislative provision to commission a DHR whereby death was by suicide ... If a death was considered accidental or suicide since December, 2020, but evidence later highlights abuse, neglect or violence leading to death, this will be notified to the Senior Oversight Forum.”

Superintendent Lindsay added further legislative and policy provisions would be welcomed, and therefore, “should there be opportunities to extend this we would work with our key partners to implement the same”.

Minister for Justice Naomi Long’s reply was in generally similar terms, pointing out this is an operational matter which rests with the Chief Constable, from whom she is independent.

While viewing domestic violence as a key priority, the Minister echoed Superintendent Lindsay, pointing out DHRs are “to help prevent future homicides and highlight good practice ... they are not about investigating the homicide or apportioning blame”.

Councillor Deehan felt the tone of the PSNI response was reassuring, although “the thrust of the motion was if domestic violence is suspected, there would be a full investigation”.

She added: “The message must go out that domestic abuse –  in whatever form – will not be tolerated and any death in suspicious circumstances including suspected suicide, will be fully investigated. We need to keep a watching brief and further, stronger legislation is required.”

Independent Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh agreed to an extent, noting: “There is a commitment in some sense, but DHRs are time-limited, so anything previous of December 2020 is excluded.

“Even at that, it appears these provisions are not being universally enforced. There needs to be mandatory consideration of potential domestic violence where there are so-called suicide incidents.

“That was the point we were making, and I don’t think it’s been realised.”

He also felt the PSNI reference to their Senior Oversight Forum offered “very little by way of public disclosure around processes on what is considered sufficient”.

He added: “We can’t afford to take our eye off the ball, because unfortunately we do not know how widespread interpretations of these events could be in our society.”