"Our commitment to Ashley" - Detective on new way to assess most dangerous domestic abusers
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“Our commitment to Ashley is to do everything we can to ensure something like this can’t happen again”
That’s from our detective leading on the new way Essex Police assesses the risk posed by domestic abusers.
Nineteen year-old Ashley Wadsworth was murdered by her boyfriend – 23 year-old Jack Sepple – in Chelmsford on 1 February last year.
He was jailed for life with a minimum of 23 years in October.
A documentary about the case – Social Media Murders: The Murder of Ashley Wadsworth – went live on the streaming platform ITVX today (Thursday 2 March).
Sepple had subjected Ashley to an ongoing ordeal of abuse and violence which ultimately resulted in her death but no reports of abuse had been made to us.
Detective Superintendent Matt Cornish has led this work:
“Prior to Ashley’s death there’d been no reports to us of domestic abuse between her and Sepple, so we wanted to understand that and how the first report that came to us was a murder.
“We carried out a rapid debrief to understand their relationship and the abuse that went on, how this happened, what we could learn from it, and, more importantly, how we could stop it happening again.”
The rapid debrief system brings together all the different teams and departments involved in a situation or case together to identify learnings quickly after an incident has happened.
It is something Essex Police is leading the way on and been held up as best practice by the College of Policing.
As a result of this process, it was identified there could be a better way of identifying high-risk perpetrators and at-risk victims
A nuanced and evidence based approach
Det Supt Cornish continued:
“Previously we’ve been using the nationally approved ‘Recency, Frequency, Gravity’ model for assessing the risk posed by domestic abuse perpetrators, which the majority of forces use.
“While this did identify repeat perpetrators, it didn’t specifically look for those risk indicators that we know are linked to domestic homicides such as coercion and control, stalking etc.
“Using this system Jack Sepple, despite being known to police, did not feature within the cohorts of identified perpetrators.
“Since Ashley’s tragic murder we reviewed how we use data to identify those ‘highest risk’ perpetrators, focussing on those which pose a threat to life by using indicators that academic research has shown are known risk indicators for domestic abuse homicide.
“We’re now looking more at the type of behaviour which might indicate there’s that increased risk, including coercive and controlling behaviour, stalking and a history of violence to name just a few.
“We’ve done this by reviewing previous cases of the most serious domestic abuse to identify the types of offending which is most prevalent and then we’ve weighted them accordingly.
“Using this information, we’ve created a database of people who pose the greatest risk and we’re able to manage them to reduce that risk, to prevent further homicides.
“We think this is a better way of assessing perpetrators because we’re identifying specific behaviour and offending, rather than just how recently and frequently they offended.
“So when we see that behaviour in others, it raises serious red flags and we can intervene.
“It’s a more nuanced approach and it’s based on evidence"
And Det Supt Cornish says this approach is already having an impact:
“Recently, one of our Domestic Abuse Problem Solving Teams were notified that an individual ranked as posing the greatest danger on the database had absconded from the premises he was meant to be staying at.
“It wasn’t long before our detective work led us to him and he was arrested and swiftly returned to prison reducing the risk he posed.
“Sadly, domestic abuse happens every day but it’s a priority for us to tackle it and break the cycle of abuse.
“And we’re always looking for new ways to reduce the chance of someone becoming a victim and tackling offenders.
“We’ve shared our work with the College of Policing and the Home Office, and are keen to work with to independently evidence our approach so we continue to learn and improve it because our commitment to Ashley is to do everything we can to ensure something like this can’t happen again”.