Family of domestic abuse victim criticises failings after police apology

Family of domestic abuse victim criticises failings after police apology
Before her death there were eight incidents reported to the police of domestic abuse by Worton on Suzanne, yet no effective action was taken to protect her

The family of a woman who suffered domestic abuse by her partner have strongly criticised West Midlands Police for years of failings, after the force issued an apology.

Suzanne Van Hagen was found dead at home by her nine-year-old daughter on February 8, 2013, the family’s lawyers said.

The chief constable of West Midlands Police, David Thompson, apologised on Friday “for a number of failings by the force in the handling of Suzanne’s case, both before and after her death”, including “a failure to properly investigate Suzanne’s death”.

Lawyers for the Van Hagen family said that after bringing a civil claim against the force for failing to protect the victim, the police had issued the apology, admitted liability for the failings and agreed to pay “substantial compensation”.

It followed a series of reviews and hearings into the case, including a force internal review in 2017, which the chief constable said had identified “many failings”.

The family’s lawyers said despite initially telling the family Miss Van Hagen had been murdered by her partner, John Wortonwho was also found dead at the propertythe force later issued a press release saying her death was believed to be due to an accidental drug overdose.

Before her death there were eight incidents reported to the police of domestic abuse by Worton on Suzanne, yet no effective action was taken to protect her.

After complaints from the family, the force’s professional standards report team concluded: “The police responsewas very poor, inadequate, lacked positive action and was not as the force and the public could have reasonably expected.”

“West Midlands Police did not take this domestic violence seriously,” it found.

Family lawyers also said that after Ms Van Hagen’s death, a female police liaison officer told her younger sister: “Your sister had two legs and she should have used them.”

Following the force’s apology, the victim’s mother, Ann Van Hagen, 说: “My beautiful daughter Suzanne deserves to be remembered as she was, not as this person whom the police tried to portray her as.”

The force’s 2017 internal review found the officer in charge of investigating Ms Van Hagen’s death failed to make proper enquiries about marks to Suzanne’s neck.

反而, he took as fact a suggestion from a pathologist the marks might be linked to a sex game, the family’s lawyers said.

But in 2019, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority ruled: “Mr Worton perpetrated a physical assault against Ms Suzanne Van Hagen including applying pressure to her neck which caused or contributed to her death.”

The victim’s father, Les Van Hagen, said the police had carried out “an absolute betrayal of the trust we place in them”.

“We tried to tell them our concerns, but they didn’t listen,“ 他说.

“It is a wicked and cruel thing to let down a family in this way.”

He added that the family was “left with the terrible knowledge that Suzanne’s death was avoidable”.

Mr Van Hagen said that when the family was allowed into the address where his daughter died, in Frankley, Birmingham, there was “clear evidence that Suzanne had tried to escape Worton’s control”, including packed suitcases in the hallway, and a letter in her handbag detailing the abuse.

Her suitcase was in the hallway, her clothes were missing from the wardrobe, a letter she’d written detailing the abusive relationship was in her handbag and her passport was found by her car.

“Having failed to protect her while she was alive, the police added insult to injury by failing to investigate her death properly,” added Mr Van Hagen.

“She was written off in death as she had been in life.”

他加了: “We have had to fight every step of the way for justice for Suzanne and have had to do the police’s job for them.

“Had we not pursued this, at great personal cost, Suzanne would have been branded a drug addict and what happened to her would have been regarded by the public as her own fault.”

A charity, Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse (AAFDA), helped the family to secure a domestic homicide review, which concluded that family, friends and neighbours of Ms Van Hagen had a greater understanding of the nature and risks of domestic abuse than any of the state agencies that came into contact with the victim had shown.

It concluded that her death might have been prevented if a “more positive and joined-up intervention, understanding of the nature of domestic violence/coercive control… (had) taken place”.

Frank Mullane, AAFDA’s chief executive, praised the family’s “grit and integrity” in their fight, adding it was “shameful it took West Midlands Police eight years to get this right”.

He said a Birmingham Community Safety Partnership domestic homicide review, carried out several years ago, now needing re-assessing.

Mr Mullane said: “The only credible conclusion is that Suzanne was killed by domestic abuse.”

Lawyer Sarah Ricca of law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, which acted on behalf of the family, 说: “This is a truly shocking case that starkly highlights the institutional discrimination women continue to face from the police in relation to domestic violence.

“Suzanne was failed by West Midlands Police in life and she was failed by them in death.”

“Her family’s long fight for justice over the past eight years shows just how hard it is to hold the powers that be to account in this country.”

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