10 Sep Chief Constable admits liability and publicly apologises for force failings to protect the life of Suzanne Van Hagen
The Chief Constable of West Midlands police has issued a rare public apology for failures in relation to domestic abuse, following an eight year struggle for justice by Suzanne’s family.
Suzanne was found dead at home by her nine-year-old daughter on 8 February 2013. Prior to her death there were eight incidents reported to the police of domestic abuse, yet no effective action was taken to protect her, despite her abuser having a known history of domestic violence. Following complaints by the family after Suzanne’s death, a West Midlands Police Professional Standards report found: “The Police response to the domestic violence suffered by Suzanne Van Hagen was 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.”
After Suzanne’s death, despite initially telling the family that Suzanne had been murdered by her partner, West Midlands Police later issued a press release saying her death was believed to be due to an accidental overdose. A subsequent police review of their investigation into Suzanne’s death found that the Senior Investigating Officer in the case failed to make proper enquiries about marks to Suzanne’s neck. Instead, he took as fact a suggestion from a pathologist that the marks might be linked to a sex game. The CICA (Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority) has since accepted that the marks were ‘a crime of violence perpetrated by’ her abuser and that this caused or contributed to her death.
Institutional discrimination against women by the police lies at the heart of their failings in Suzanne’s case, as it does in so many cases where they fail victims of domestic abuse. After Suzanne’s death, a female police liaison officer told Ms Van Hagen’s younger sister: ‘Your sister had two legs and she should have used them.’
The family used the Human Rights Act to hold the police to account for their failings, bringing a civil claim against West Midlands police. The Chief Constable has now admitted liability for failures to protect Suzanne and her daughter and agreed to pay substantial compensation. He has also issued a public apology which can be viewed here.
The BBC’s report on the case and interview with Suzanne’s family can be viewed here.
Suzanne’s father Les Van Hagen said, “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. We simply could not let that happen.”
Sarah Ricca said: “The police failed Suzanne before her death and they failed her after. It was left to her family to expose those failings, through a long and arduous struggle to vindicate Suzanne. They should not have had to wait all these years for justice. But their determination has secured a victory that is not just for Suzanne and her daughter, but for all victims of domestic abuse who are failed by state agencies, and in cases where those failings contribute to domestic homicide, for their families too.”
For any press enquiries please ring our office on 02074070007 and ask for Sarah Ricca, saying you are a journalist ringing in relation to this case.