LONDON // Police forces need to review their witness protection schemes to help victims of "honour" violence, an issue that results in one murder every month, according to new guidance issued yesterday. The guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) aim to help forces deal with potential victims amid concern that the crimes are more widespread than thought and following criticism that officers have not always dealt with it properly.
Honour-based violence is an offence carried out to protect or defend the honour of a family or community, ACPO says. Such crimes were almost unheard of in Britain until a few years ago, but the issue has become more prominent in recent years following a number of high-profile murder cases. According to ACPO, 12 people are murdered every year in honour-related crime, but campaigners estimate the number of killings is actually far higher.
"We do not know how many commit suicide as an alternative or an escape," said Steve Allen, the Metropolitan Police commander and the ACPO lead on honour-based violence. "We know that around 500 men and women report to us every year their fear of being forced into marriage, or their experience of rape, assault, false imprisonment and much more as the consequence of being in a marriage without their consent."
The new police strategy follows accusations some officers have ignored the issue for fear of upsetting cultural sensitivities in minority communities. Last year Mahmod Mahmod, 52, was jailed for ordering the murder of his daughter, Banaz, because she had left the husband she had been forced to marry and had fallen in love with another man. The crime provoked criticism because Banaz Mahmod had reported to police she believed her father was trying to kill her.
In the guidance, ACPO said the "urgency of the issue" meant forces need to review their witness protection schemes to ensure victims of honour crimes are included even if they do not want to help prosecute those responsible. Many might be unwilling to criminalise their families or faiths, it said. "Under no circumstances must a victim or potential victim ever be turned away and told that honour-based violence is nothing to do with the police," the document said.
The strategy also said it is essential police try to influence religious and community leaders to speak out on the issue to say it is unacceptable. * Reuters