Report – An analysis of Domestic Homicide Reviews with fatal suffocation and smothering – Institute for addressing Strangulation

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The first report in this series is an analysis of 16 DHRs where the method of killing was suffocation or smothering. This report provides a detailed exploration into victim/perpetrator demographics and offers new insights into suffocation and smothering in domestic homicide, including the associated patterns and characteristics of such cases. The report includes key recommendations for both research and practice.

Following the introduction of Strangulation and Suffocation as a standalone offence in England and Wales in June 2022, the Institute for Addressing Strangulation (IFAS) has been funded, by the Home Office, to raise awareness of the risks associated with strangulation to professionals and the general public. Feedback from a Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) Network event prompted
this series of reports to better understand strangulation and suffocation in the context of domestic homicide. The focus of this report is suffocation as the method of killing in the domestic homicide.

The second and third reports in the series focus on non-fatal strangulation and
fatal strangulation respectively. DHRs aim to improve professional responses to
domestic abuse by analysing the interactions that a victim of domestic homicide had with relevant agencies prior to their death occurring. The DHR statutory guidance states that the purpose of a DHR is to:
a) establish what lessons are to be learned from the domestic homicide regarding the way in which local professionals and organisations work individually and together to safeguard victims;
b) identify clearly what those lessons are both within and between agencies, how and within what timescales they will be acted on, and what is expected to change as a result;
c) apply these lessons to service responses including changes to inform national and local policies and procedures as appropriate;
d) prevent domestic violence and homicide and improve service responses for all domestic violence and abuse victims and their children by developing a co-ordinated multi-agency approach to ensure that domestic abuse is identified and responded to effectively at the earliest opportunity;
e) contribute to a better understanding of the nature of domestic violence and abuse; and
f) highlight good practice : DHRs can therefore provide a wealth of information
pertaining to forms of abuse experienced by victims including strangulation.

A decision to conduct a DHR is made “following the death of a person over the age of 16 that has been the result of violence, abuse or neglect by a relative, [intimate] partner or member of the same household”. When a death relating to domestic violence occurs, the police contact the local Community Safety Partnership (CSP). If the CSP decides a review is appropriate they appoint an
Independent Chair and supporting panel to conduct it. Agencies related to the victim are then required to submit Individual Management Reviews (IMRs) in which they “look openly and critically at individual and organisational

The Chair and panel then analyse the IMRs alongside any other relevant information, draw conclusions and make recommendations. The decision whether or not to undertake a review should be made within 1 month of the case coming to the attention of the CSP and completed within 6 months of that date “unless the review panel formally agrees an alternative timescale with the
CSP”. The CSP is then responsible for publishing the completed DHR online. Until July 2023, when the Home Office made available the online Domestic
Homicide Review Library, there was no one place or central repository of DHRs.
There is a growing body of research on domestic homicide reviews [7],[8],[9]. However, until now, there has been no specific analysis of DHRs
pertaining to strangulation and suffocation.

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