Domestic abuse victims: ‘Five years? How many thousands of women will be left at risk if we have to wait five years?’
West Dunbartonshire has the unenviable distinction of being the domestic abuse capital of Scotland.
Nationally, around 20,000 domestic abuse victims could be left in danger before an inquiry tests police failures in the Louise Aitchison murder, campaigners fear.
Her family are calling for an urgent Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the murder of the dental nurse, 33, by repeat domestic abuse offender Darryl Paterson, 37, two years ago.
Police Scotland were forced to admit to at least 18 errors as watchdogs criticised their failure to warn Ms Aitchison of her partner’s violent past. A Power To Tell order was in place for five weeks before she was murdered at her home.
The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner ruled that warning – not even delivered on the night she was murdered after calling 999 to have Paterson removed from her home – may have saved her life.
Last week a date was finally set for the FAI into the deaths of two men who died at the Cameron House fire on Loch Lomondside in December 2017. It will be held in August this year, four and a half years on.
Ms Aitchison’s family have been told there will be an FAI but fear a similar delay in examining the police failures behind her death will mean thousands of women are left at risk as the force fail to learn from the mistakes made and fail to reassure the public that systems and training have been improved.
Almost 4,000 women receive a Power To Tell warning every year, or are so worried about their safety they apply to police to access a partner’s abuse history.
There were 3,862 order applications, 2,748 Power To Tell orders issued, and 1,114 granted under the Right To Tell, which gives people the right to ask about the background of their partner.
Ms Aitchison’s mother Caroline Lyon, 56, said: “I read the FAI into the deaths during the Cameron House fire won’t take place until this year, meaning that has been almost five years for those families to wait to hear the truth of what happened.
“If we have to wait almost five years for Louise’s FAI, how many more domestic abuse victims will die or suffer terrible injuries before we can test the police procedures that failed my daughter and led to her murder?
“I’ll never get over losing Louise so needlessly, and believe if only she had been told about Paterson’s past, she would still be here today.
“The only comfort we can possibly have is to ensure the failures that led to Louise’s murder cannot happen again.
“That is why we must have an FAI as quickly as possible before other families are mourning another needless loss.”
Waiting times for FAI’s have grown substantially since Covid caused backlogs, with FAI’s currently waiting five years and more. Scottish Conservative Shadow Social Justice Minister Miles Briggs said he would be writing to the Lord Advocate to raise concerns over the number of domestic abuse victims that would be at risk if Ms Aitchison’s FAI is not carried out quickly.
He said: “Those figures are utterly shocking. We simply cannot allow almost five years to pass knowing such high numbers of victims are at risk before the system which is supposed to protect so many from domestic abuse, is properly tested to ascertain if all the 18 failures the police have already admitted to have been fully addressed.
“The whole reason for an FAI into this dreadful tragedy is to ensure it cannot happen again.”
Scottish Women’s Aid said that one in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and that this abuse could lead to suicide when the appropriate authorities did not intervene.
It said: “Until proper systems are in place we will be failing in our duty to protect Scotland’s women and children from men’s fatal violence. Domestic abuse and the killing of women by their partners or ex-partners is always about control. Men who commit such horrific violence rarely do so out of nowhere – there are patterns of escalating domestic abuse that repeat again and again.”
Last month, on the second anniversary of Ms Aitchison’s murder, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon discussed her FAI with Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain after Ms Lyon went to the Scottish Parliament to discuss with MSPs from all parties the need for a swift investigation into police failures that lead to her death.
Last week, Caroline Midgley criticised the delay over the FAI into the Cameron House Hotel fire which claimed the life of her son Simon, 35, and his partner Richard Dyson, 38, from London.
The five-star hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond burned in December 2017, leading to operator Cameron House Resort was fined £500,000.
Hotel night porter Christopher O’Malley was given a community payback order in January 2021 after Dumbarton Sheriff Court heard he placed ash and fire embers into a plastic bag and stored them in a cupboard which contained kindling and newspapers. Both O’Malley and the hotel admitted breaking fire safety laws.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service still have no date for Ms Aitchison’s FAI. They said: “We will continue to keep in touch with the family to keep them informed as we work towards an FAI.”
Picture: Abuse campaigners meeting in West Dunbartonshire. Picture by Bill Heaney