Covid: The never-ending lockdown of witness protection

“You don’t get to say goodbye to anyone, you don’t get to phone them up and say ‘oh by the way I’m going into witness protection, I’m not going to speak to you’.”

Self-isolation and reduced contact with friends and family has been a necessity during the pandemic, but for some people it’s a never-ending reality.

The BBC was given extremely rare access to someone in the closely-guarded and secretive UK Protected Persons Service (UKPPS).

For more than 20 years, Sian (not her real name) says she was a victim of horrendous, sustained, physical and sexual domestic violence.

As a result, she and her children now live in “witness protection” conditions in a state of enforced separation and anonymity.

Having grown up with abuse throughout her childhood, Sian was a teenager when she met the man she would later marry.

But things quickly took a dark turn.

At first it was sexual violence,” she said, pausing briefly after every few words.

“But then physical violence crept in. Within three weeks he was raping me. That led to two decades of domestic violence.”

Things got worse after Sian had children.

But – after a particularly traumatic experience – she sought medical help and that led to wider involvement from the authorities – the police deemed the risk to her life was so severe, she had to enter the protected persons service right away.

Life changed immediately.

She and her children were moved to another part of the UK and, to all intents and purposes, dropped off the face of the earth to many people they knew. They were given new identities and asked to start over.

“There’s always this constant reminder of what has happened and where we are, so that will never leave us,” she told me, hesitating.

“Your old life stopped and your new life has started. You live ‘normal’, which is normal for us, but not for anybody else.”

It’s not just witnesses of serious crime that are part of the UKPPS.

It is also for people like Sian, where the threat on their life is so severe, there is no other option.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-54148742

Super complaint’ launched against police by Teesside charity to combat ‘systemic issue’

A charity says critical failures have severely damaged the effectiveness of police investigations of sexual abuse affecting BAME complainants

A Teesside charity has filed a “super complaint” against alleged systemic mishandling of sexual abuse cases by police forces – including Cleveland Police.

Tees Valley Inclusion Project and its charity the Halo Project, based on Teesside, supports women and girls facing illegal cultural harms

This includes honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The charity says police forces are perpetuating an environment which makes it harder for people in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community to report sexual abuse.

The super complaint details nine ‘key failures’ in police responses to reports of sexual abuse within the BAME community.

It claims these severely damage the effectiveness of police investigations and harms confidence in the police’s commitment to properly investigate serious allegations.

Halo Project is one of 16 super complaints bodies in the country and one of two designated BAME super complaints bodies.

The super complaint is called “Invisible Survivors – The Long Wait For Justice,”and the charity has been collecting evidence and data for several years.

Yasmin Khan, chief executive of Halo Project said: “Our main mission at Halo is to protect and support those facing honour-based violence issues such as sexual and domestic abuse, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM).

“This systemic issue in our policing system significantly affects the interests of the public and it must be addressed.”

Filing the report to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Halo Project says it wants to work with the police forces to create a safer environment for both BAME communities and the wider public.

Ms Khan added: “Our aim is to work with the police and other bodies to develop a national action plan, based upon the key recommendations within our super complaint.

“We hope to be working closely and positively with the police and the wider criminal justice system to ensure these recommendations are implemented.”

Halo Project recommends that the police “establish an independent national BAME reference group to include survivors who can identify the key areas of improvement for investigations in the future”.

It adds: “The project is committed to ensuring the voices within the super-complaint are not forgotten and we learn from their experiences.”

There are approximately 12 reported honour killings per year in the UK with national statistics showing that South Asian females under the age of 24 are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts.

Halo Project aims to raise awareness in order for to victims feel able to seek help at an earlier stage and the relevant agencies intervene more quickly to prevent abuse from taking place.

Teesside Live has contacted Cleveland Police and the College of Policing for comment.

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/super-complaint-launched-against-police-18825630

In depth report: Jessica Patel’s hellish life at hands of the lying monster she called husband

Mitesh Patel’s sperm reduction pills, cheating, humiliation, isolation and violence towards his wife – an extensive look into the murder case that shocked Teesside

A sad string of callous and cruel abuse led to the brutal murder of a loving pharmacist.

Jessica Patel was just 34 when her life was ended by her cheating husband Mitesh Patel in May 2018. 

And a review into her death has shone a light on the years of physical assaults, controlling behaviour and suffering she faced before her evil husband strangled her with a Tesco bag for life. 

Work is underway to learn lessons from Jessica’s murder – including more work to examine the signs of “honour based violence”, a review of the help offered to “diverse communities”, and a recommendation urging the Home Office to look at how small family-owned businesses can deal with signs of domestic abuse.

A 74-page domestic homicide review by the Middlesbrough Community Safety Partnership was published on Monday with the help of Jessica’s family – offering detailed insight into what can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. 

Mitesh Patel had plotted to murder Jessica, claim £2m from a raft of insurance policies and start a new life with his gay lover in Australia. 

But the review reported how Jessica had suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of Mitesh both in the home and at work. 

String of long-term domestic abuse

Jessica’s family listed a string of examples of domestic abuse and “controlling and coercive behaviour” which were highlighted in the probe. 

They included how Jessica had told her younger sister how Mitesh had “hit her in the car” in disagreements over Jessica being stopped from seeing more of her dying grandfather. 

Another example told how Jessica “stopped speaking up about things” and “appeared scared” when it came to committing to attending family events.

“Missed opportunity”

Both Jessica and Mitesh were registered with the same GP practice in Middlesbrough and both were well-known to the surgery as their pharmacy was closely linked.

The probe found Mitesh’s behaviour remained “hidden from agencies” and it was only when Mitesh killed Jessica sparking a police investigation that the jigsaw of “appalling behaviour” was revealed from the testimony of colleagues and family.

Jessica visited her GP and told how she was suffering anxiety and was under pressure because she could not conceive in April 2016 which led to a referral for cognitive therapy.  

But the homicide review found that the GP not asking questions about Jessica’s potential domestic abuse was a “missed opportunity” to uncover what was going on.  

The probe also detailed how Mitesh had intimate relationships with a number of men during the time he was married to Jessica.

Jessica was born into a large Hindu community in Leeds and was described by her family as being a quiet, innocent and “good girl” who wouldn’t hurt anyone. 

Both Jessica and Mitesh knew each other as children before meeting again when they were older.

Among the lessons from the tragedy, the independent review found Jessica’s murder was an “honour killing” given wider “cultural beliefs about sexuality” and was an example of something that might have been perceived as adultery and immoral behaviour within the Hindu community. 

The report added: “Divorce on the grounds that Mitesh was gay could never have been a reason for him to end his marriage.

“Consequently, the only way that Mitesh may have felt able to leave the marriage with honour was by killing Jessica

“Jessica did nothing that was, or might be perceived, as dishonourable.

“However, her death at the hands of Mitesh should be considered an honour killing because Mitesh killed her to try and protect his own honour.”

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/depth-report-jessica-patels-hellish-18621720

Everytime I went to bed I would cry and cry’: How mum escaped husband’s terrifying abuse during lockdown

A mum has praised a Teesside charity for helping her to escape emotional abuse during the coronavirus lockdown.

The woman, who does not want to be named, said her husband would shout, scream and swear at her on a daily basis.

The mum-of-two said she was left feeling so scared and down that she would cry herself to sleep every night.

She rang The Halo Project in Middlesbrough for help and they gave her support during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Their service gave her the strength to leave and start a new life with her children.

The woman, in her 20s, said: “At the beginning it was a love story then he started shouting at me and swearing at me.

“There was no respect at all. When there’s no respect it’s not love.

“He started shouting in front of the kids.

“When I went out with my friends he kept ringing me saying ‘come back, come back’

“When I came back he would ask where did you go or why did you go shopping.

“He complained about everything I did.

“He didn’t care about my feelings.

“I was really down, I was looking at my life and how it was before.

“I didn’t know what to do. Every time I went to bed I would cry and cry.”

The woman said she discovered The Halo Project while searching the internet for local services.

She said she contacted them because she didn’t want her children to grow up in that environment.

The woman said the charity supported her through the lockdown and helped her to become independent

She said: “I was really down and I needed someone to help me – to push me, to show me and advise me.

“It was really hard in the house. I was stuck in and I had to stay in during the evening.

“I couldn’t make danger for my kids – I had to wait until lockdown became easier.

“I talked to Halo during the lockdown. They were telling me what to do and were in contact through the phone.

“They offered me refuge but because of lockdown it would be too hard.

“I managed to find a place and they helped me to get my benefits from the government.

“Halo are still helping me everyday.

“Now I’m an independent woman with two kids. I feel better in myself.

“There’s no shouting, no swearing, just a normal life.”

The Halo Project provides support and, where necessary, intervention to protect those on Teesside at risk of honour-based violence and forced marriage.

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/everytime-went-bed-would-cry-18608674?utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sharebar

‘Police must notice signs of honour-based abuse

A CHARITY which deals with honour kill­ings in south Asian communities has warned that more women will die unless the authorities become proactive in notic­ing the signs of domestic abuse.

The warning from Middlesbrough-based Halo Project comes after a ‘domestic homi­cide review’ of the murder of pharmacist Jessica Patel concluded that she should have been asked whether her husband was violent towards her.

Yasmin Khan, founder and director of the Halo Project, who was part of the review team, told Eastern Eye that it was clear that some in the room did not understand the concept of ‘honour killings’.

“They said Jessica didn’t do anything to bring shame and dishonour on the family or community so it couldn’t have been an hon­our killing,” she said. “I said, ‘exactly, it was her husband and he was trying to silence her from bringing shame and dishonour because of what he was doing was a per­ceived cultural taboo.”

Mitesh Patel was jailed for life after he was convicted of the murder of his wife Jes­sica. He had strangled and suffocated her with a Tesco carrier bag in a staged break-in at their home in Middlesbrough in May 2018 because he wanted to start a new life with his male lover in Australia. In the end, the panel agreed it was an ‘honour killing’.

Khan said the police and other authori­ties do not investigate domestic abuse through the lens of honour-based violence as a matter of course. Last week Eastern Eye revealed that her organisation had begun a super complaint against the Home Office over the way forces investigate crimes in south Asian communities.

“This is not about beating people up. This is about making people change. It’s about accepting your responsibilities about what you need to do. You need to know what the signs are, you need to recognise that no -one is going to come and say, ‘I suffer from honour-based violence’.”

Authorities, she said, often take the less difficult option when solving crimes.

“If they don’t class it as honour-based abuse, and class it as domestic abuse, it’s an easier route. It goes to a particular agency, and it follows a pathway,” she said.

“If it’s honour-based violence, the public body has to do something which is already ordinarily difficult, and when they don’t know what they have to deal with, they’re going to take the simple way.”

The review, commissioned by the Mid­dlesbrough Community Safety Partnership in line with Home Office guidance, con­cluded the killing could not have been pre­dicted, but awareness of the warning signs of domestic abuse needed to be raised.

The chair of the Community Safety Part­nership, councillor Mieka Smiles said, “Jes­sica was not involved with many agencies prior to her death, but we learned that there is more we can do both locally and nation­ally for victims of domestic abuse, specifi­cally those from BAME communities.

“That includes increasing understanding of ‘honour-based’ violence and ensuring that family, friends, employers and the wid­er community know how to recognise the signs, report their concerns and support those in need.”

In a statement, Jessica’s family said, “As a family this review was an extremely painful process, but we recognise the importance of highlighting Jessica’s story to provide a voice for her and others that may be suffering in silence. So this act of evil is not repeated, we encourage everyone to ask questions and never assume everything is ok.”

Khan said that unless things changed more women would die, classed as victims of domestic abuse.

“They’re going to die in hidden numbers because we don’t know the real scale of honour killings,” she warned.

“We’ve been touted figures of 12 or 15 honour killings per year for the past seven years. But what about the people who report loved ones missing, or those who’re mur­dered abroad? If they’re involved in a mur­der, are they going to report it? No, they’re not. There are no national bodies who will challenge the authorities.”

Girl, 17, almost forced by parents into marrying man nearly twice her age

For most young people, turning 18 is one of the most significant moments and one to celebrate.

But for one school girl from Nottinghamshire, this was set to be the darkest day of her life.

The girl, aged 17 at the time, had been told by her parents that she would be forced into marrying a man nearly twice her age on the day she turned 18.

The teenager, who wants to remain anonymous, was to have no say over whom she was to spend the rest of her life with, let alone knowing if she had anything in common with this man ahead of marrying him.

The expectation of her family was that the girl would marry this man and be forced into having children with him – no questions asked.

Luckily for this 17-year-old, help was at hand after she was able to tell teachers at her school what was intended for her.

That was when Nottinghamshire Police stepped in to support her.

The force’s dedicated honour-based abuse team attended her school alongside social care colleagues, and she disclosed to them that her parents had returned from Pakistan and arranged for her to marry a 30-year-old man.

The teen had been diagnosed with autism, making it difficult for her to express herself with strangers.

However, she eventually disclosed to police hat her parents had arranged a marriage for her 18th birthday.

The marriage was to a man who she had never met, who was a relative of her father.

Her nightmare ordeal was finally over late in 2018 when a court order was served on both her parents and the teenager was taken into care due to the risk of harm she faced.

Charity The Halo Project, which supports victims of forced marriages, also warned at the start of lockdown that these sort of crimes could increase during the pandemic.

Charities pointed to an increase in victims reaching out to them and warned that parents could now be planning to take children abroad for weddings against their will – as soon as laws on self-isolation for 14 days on return to Britain are scrapped.

Halo Project founder Yasmin Khan echoed the concerns, describing forced marriage as “disguising a multitude of harms” and something that can be arranged “extremely quickly.”

She said there had been a 63 per cent rise in referrals to the charity between March and May, adding that school closures had exacerbated the situation.

https://www.nottinghampost.com/news/local-news/girl-17-almost-forced-parents-4326325

Jessica Patel murder: Middlesbrough review finds signs of abuse

Women seeking medical help for anxiety should be asked if they are suffering domestic abuse, an inquiry into the murder of a pharmacist has found.

Mitesh Patel strangled his wife Jessica in a staged break-in at their home in Middlesbrough in May 2018 as part of a plot to move abroad with his gay lover.

domestic homicide review found the murder could not have been predicted.

But there are lessons to be learned about the awareness of warning signs of domestic abuse.

The review, carried out by Middlesbrough Community Safety Partnership, said there were signs Mrs Patel, 34, was being domestically abused by her husband during their nine-year marriage.

The panel said individual family, friends and colleagues had pieces of information that on their own “may not have seemed significant or alerted them of concerns”, but when put together would have shown the abuse she suffered.

Incidents included:

  • Patel refusing to let his wife return home to visit her dying grandfather
  • Patel shouting at his wife in front of colleagues and customers at the Roman Road Pharmacy they ran together
  • Patel moving his wife to Middlesbrough from the Halifax area which her family said was to isolate her
  • Patel throwing a phone at her injuring her leg

Mrs Patel sought help from a GP for anxiety but there was “no evidence” she was explicitly asked about domestic abuse, the panel said.

“Research suggests that women experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to experience a mental health problem, while women with mental health problems are more likely to be domestically abused,” the review said.

“In cases of mental health problems, health professionals should always consider asking a direct question of the patient.”

‘Act of evil’

The panel’s report said Ms Patel was getting fertility treatment as she desperately wanted to be a mother, but unbeknown to her Patel was taking drugs to stifle his sperm count.

He had a series of gay affairs and was planning to move to Australia to be with a lover, the report said.

The panel also said the murder should be considered an honour killing as the “only way [Mitesh Patel] may have felt able to leave the marriage with honour was by killing Jessica”.

In a statement, Mrs Patel’s family said they supported the “extremely painful” review to “provide a voice for her”.

“So that this act of evil is not repeated, we encourage everyone to open their eyes, to ask questions and never assume everything is ok,” they said.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-53389877

Forced marriages could see a spike as lockdown is relaxed, campaigners warn

CAMPAIGNERS warned today of a possible spike in forced marriages as Britain eases lockdown restrictions and lifts quarantine rules.

Charities point to an increase in victims reaching out to them and have warned that parents could now be planning to take children abroad for weddings against their will as soon as laws on self-isolating for 14 days on return to Britain are scrapped.

The warning came as data gathered by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), leading the government’s work on tackling the crime, indicated a rise in the number of LGBT victims.

It also revealed that more than a quarter of cases for which the unit provided advice last year involved children, while its figures indicated that the largest number of cases were linked to Pakistan.

Halo Project founder Yasmin Khan echoed the concerns, describing forced marriage as “disguising a multitude of harms” and something that can be arranged “extremely quickly.”

She said there had been a 63 per cent rise in referrals to the charity between March and May, adding that school closures had exacerbated the situation and saw victims contacting police instead.

Freedom Charity Aneeta Prem urged authorities to be alert to the concerns and said that victims were turning to shopkeepers for help.

School safeguarding rules cover “honour-based” abuse, which includes forced marriage, but Ms Prem — who has a waiting list of 200 schools asking for the charity’s accredited lesson plans and outreach projects — said more funding should be put into raising awareness.

Between 2008 and 2019, 2,452 Forced Marriage Protection Orders were granted in Britain’s courts in a bid to rescue victims.

The government branded forced marriage a “hidden crime,” admitting that the figures fell short of revealing the true scale of abuse.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/b/forced-marriages-could-see-spike-lockdown-relaxed-campaigners-warn

‘Schoolgirl fearful of arranged marriage beaten and whipped’

*Please note: She was fearful of a ‘forced marriage’ not an arranged marriage as that would involve consent willingly*

A schoolgirl who feared being forced into an arranged marriage was assaulted by her father and brother for having a secret mobile and a Facebook account.

The 15-year-old was whipped with an electrical cable, hit with a walking stick, slapped and spat at, over several weeks.

Leicester Crown Court was told the dad and brother were concerned about her using the phone to contact another female relative – who had deserted an arranged marriage and moved away.

They suspected the teenager may also be using the phone – kept hidden in a school locker – to associate with boys.

The victim’s father and brother, who live in Leicester, each admitted two counts of common assault, during the end of last year.

Their identities have not been published because of a court order made to protect the victim.

Demands to see Facebook

Nadia Silver, prosecuting, said that during one confrontation the brother, who is in his early 20s, demanded to see her Facebook account.

When she refused, her brother took hold of an electrical lead and bent it over so that it was double thickness.

Miss Silver said: “He hit her with it a number of times on various parts of her body, including the top of her foot.

“A scar from that was still visible a month later when a police officer took a photograph.”

The prosecutor said the girl’s father, in his 40s, hit her with a wooden walking stick on her left arm, knee and calf when she came home late from a school event.

‘You’re not my sister any more’

The next day her brother went to his sister’s school and attempted to get the mobile from her locker, but staff denied him access.

When later confronted by her family at home, her brother demanded to know if she had a phone and when she confessed to having one he spat in her face saying: “You’re not my sister anymore.”

Miss Silver said: “The father, who was present in the front room with the other family members, also spat in her face.”

The next day, the brother was again refused permission to access his sister’s locker at the school, resulting in the head of safeguarding speaking to the girl, who winced in pain when given “a reassuring touch” on her shoulder.

She revealed that she had been physically hurt at home.

Fears over forced marriage

Miss Silver said: “She expressed a fear that her family would send her to Bangladesh to be married against her will.”

The final confrontation was when her brother slapped her face for refusing to hand over her phone.

During a subsequent family meeting at the school, the brother “expressed the family’s concern the girl was making inappropriate contact with boys using her phone,” said the prosecutor.

Figures show ‘at least 10’ FGM victims identified in the surrounding areas of Bradford

Doctors say at least ten victims of female genital mutilation were seen by NHS services in the surrounding areas of Bradford at the start of the year.

The National FGM Centre warned the risk to children and young people may have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, with school closures reducing contact with teachers and health professionals.

Roughly 10 victims of FGM were seen by health services in the the surrounding areas of Bradford Clinical Commissioning Group area between January and March, NHS Digital figures show.

Of those, at least one were having their injuries reported to the NHS for the first time.

Only approximate numbers are recorded in the data, to prevent identification of individual women.

FGM, where female genitals are removed, cut or injured for non-medical reasons, is illegal in the UK, and people carrying out or assisting with the procedure could face up to 14 years in prison.

Most girls are cut before they turn 15, but are frequently not identified or treated by the NHS until they are pregnant.

In the surrounding areas of Bradford, all of the women seen in 2018-19 were over 18.

The NHS says that children at risk of FGM may talk about plans to have a “special procedure” or “become a woman”.

Parents may also give clues, including stating that they or a family member will be taking the child out of the country for a prolonged period of time.

However, the National FGM Centre, run by children’s charity Barnardo’s and the Local Government Association, said these warning signs could go unheard while children across the UK are not attending school.

Leethen Bartholomew, the centre’s head, said: “While children and young people are at home, they are not linked to professionals and there are no services in contact with them – if there is a concern we wouldn’t know.

“They don’t have those opportunities to hear concerns and respond to disclosure.”

https://www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk/news/18516817.figures-show-at-least-10-fgm-victims-identified-surrounding-areas-bradford/

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