Northamptonshire’s hidden problem with honour based abuse

In 2018 and 2019 there were 61 incidents of so-called honour based abuse reported to Northants Police but not one led to a prosecution

By Natalie Bloomer

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In 2006, 20-year-old Banaz Mahmood was raped and murdered and her body was buried in a suitcase in Birmingham. Her death had been ordered by her family who believed she had shamed them for leaving an arranged marriage and later starting a relationship with a man they did not approve of. 

Banaz, from London, had been to the police five times prior to her death and even provided a list of the men who were following and abusing her. Despite her warnings, the police failed to protect her.

The case led to national headlines and last year a TV drama of the investigation into her murder aired on ITV. But how much has changed since that case and is enough being done in Northamptonshire to tackle the issue of so-called honour based abuse?

A recent report found that 34 incidents of honour based abuse (which can include female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage) were recorded in Northamptonshire in 2018 and 27 were recorded in 2019. Not a single one of those cases led to any charges. 

The figures have prompted concern from local organisation Creating Equalz, which offers race equality based assessments and delivers domestic abuse training including on FGM and other harmful practices.

“It’s a real problem when we are seeing incidents being reported in Northamptonshire but still no charges. It’s very concerning that people might not come forward because they don’t think action will be taken,” April Ventour-Griffiths, director at Creating Equalz says. 

In 2016 Northamptonshire Police revealed that more than 250 cases involving honour based abuse were reported in the county over a seven year period. However it is likely the number of actual offences is much higher. 

When publishing national data on honour-based offences for 2019 and 2020, the Home Office said:

“It is recognised that honour based abuse (HBA) tends to be a hidden crime and victims can be reluctant to bring them to the attention of police or other authorities. These data, therefore, are likely to only represent a small proportion of the actual HBA offences committed in 2019 and 2020.”

The figures showed there were 2,024 honour based abuse offences committed in England and Wales during that period. When compared with the 12,107 calls received over a 12-month period by Karma Nirvana, a national charity with a helpline for honour based abuse, it’s clear to see why many organisations are worried about the number of people not coming forward to the police.

The Home Office also explains how even when incidents are reported they may not be recorded correctly as honour based abuse and therefore do not show up in the official police figures. 

“While police forces have been asked to confirm the accuracy of the statistics in this release, we are aware of a number of data quality issues.

“It is known that for some police forces, the identification of crimes as HBA-related relies on a police officer or other member of police staff remembering to correctly apply the HBA-related tag to an offence on the force crime record management system. Such tags are not always correctly applied.”

In 2015 a report by the police watchdog HMIC (now HMICFRS) found only three of 43 police forces in England and Wales were adequately prepared to protect people from harm caused by honour based abuse. The report broke this down into five categories and assessed forces under each of them. Northamptonshire was only seen to be prepared in two of the five areas.

“One of the problems we see in Northamptonshire is the lack of a joined-up approach on this issue,” Laney Holland, founder of Creating Equalz, says. 

“Just take FGM, you could speak to 20 different schools in the area and they would all have different referral paths. There just doesn’t seem to be any improvement in the way these issues are dealt with.

“We have a real problem in this county with not putting our hands up and realising when we need to change things. Statutory bodies and public sector bodies are only coming together when they have to - when something goes wrong. We can’t just keep fighting fires. We just see the same old things keep happening, there’s no change.”

In December the victims commissioner and domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales wrote to the home secretary Priti Patel to express concerns over progress on the recommendations made in the 2015 HMICFRS report and backing calls for a follow-up inspection. It said:

“We note that to date little progress has been made on the recommendations arising from this report. These concerns were flagged in a letter from the national charity Karma Nirvana in May 2019 and remain outstanding as a growing concern.

“The preliminary inspection in 2015 arose as a consequence of joint sector concerns that victims and survivors of HBA, at that time, were being failed by police. The majority of the inspection findings concurred with this position...It is estimated that since the last inspection a further 75 victims have been murdered in the name of ‘so-called’ honour in the UK. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the national HBA helpline has experienced increased call volumes by up to 264 per cent. This is against a backdrop of declining HBA related prosecutions, which has fallen by 43 per cent since 2014/2015 according to a CPS report.”

In Northamptonshire, there is little research or data into the extent of the problem locally. However Creating Equalz says they know honour based abuse is happening here and that more needs to be done to tackle it. 

“The lack of research compared to so many other areas is one of the big problems, organisations like ours need to be funded to carry out that research. In Northamptonshire, we’re still letting people down when it comes to honour based abuse and that just isn’t good enough, people here are suffering. With the lack of surveillance caused by the pandemic we fear it’s only going to get worse”

In a statement to NN Journal, Northamptonshire Police said:

“Our primary concern in cases of honour based abuse is to safeguard the individuals concerned and we will use all the legislation available to us to do this – to support our victims and ensure that we keep them safe and away from harm.

“Cases of honour based abuse are treated with the seriousness and confidentiality they deserve and between 2018 and 2019, we trained 600 officers in honour based violence which included how to spot the signs of this type of abuse as well as how to deal with an individual case.

“We also chair regular partnership meetings which look at how we and our partners can identify and best support people who may be the victims of this crime-type.

“Honour based abuse may be linked to a number of different crimes including domestic abuse and we have, and will continue, to take positive action in these cases to protect victims. 

“We would always encourage victims of honour based abuse to come forward and can reassure them that we will treat their case with the sensitivity and discretion it deserves. Please report it to us by calling 101 or if you would prefer to report anonymously, you can do so at www.northants.police.uk/ro.”