NSW Police Under Investigation Over Delayed Response to Domestic Violence Report

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Casino NSW

Australian Femicide Watch has reported that another woman has been murdered at the hands of her male partner, making her the 47th female to be killed in the nation as a result of domestic violence offending this year alone, the eighth this month and the second within a 24 hour period.

Sarah Miles is reported to have died at the hands of her partner as a result of head injuries in the town of Casino in the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales in the early hours of Saturday, 29 June 2024.

The mother has been described as a “loving, talented and compassionate person”.

Her partner, 31-year old Dwayne John Creighton, has been charged with the crime of murder and was refused bail in Lismore Local Court on Sunday morning.

And while Sarah’s death has become an all too familiar tragedy in our nation, a critical incident investigation has been commenced into why it took police an hour to respond to a call out for help despite being stationed only a short distance from Sarah’s home.

Delayed response

According to police, a concern for welfare call was made shortly after 1.30am. The call was acknowledged by a radio operator almost an hour later at 2:25am. Police officers responding to the call arrived on the scene only two minutes later – they were in the vicinity of the address. 

NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Peter McKenna has said that when officers arrived they found the woman with “obvious injuries to her head” after an apparent physical assault and she was “unconscious but breathing. Police assisted her and immediately called for an ambulance. The ambulance arrived shortly afterwards, but the woman’s condition deteriorated and she died at the scene. 

Questions raised

The question now, of course, is could the outcome have been different? Could the woman have survived if Police had attended the scene in a more timely manner. 

As stated, a critical incident investigation is underway, which is an internal police investigation that is meant to provide answers about, among other things, why the incident was not deemed a higher priority by emergency dispatchers.

It is hoped public pressure will lead to answers, and reform to ensure nothing like this occurs in the future.

Domestic violence continues unabated 

Domestic violence continues to be at epidemic levels throughout Australia, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in funding being spent on support and frontline services seems to be doing little if anything to rectify the situation.

Part of those funds are being spent on training police to spot early warning signs and ensure they are appropriately prepared as ‘first responders’ in many instances.  

But the funds do not seem to have prevented the tragic events of last Saturday morning.

Pressures on the court system

The domestic violence epidemic is also putting a strain on the court system.

Statistics published last month suggest that domestic violence-related matter make up a whopping 26% of all cases that come before New South Wales local courts.

To make things worse for suffering families, finalising these matters takes on average 266 days (more than 8 months) as legal services too, cry out for more funding. National Legal Aid has already publicly declared that about $300 million in funding is needed to meet current demand. 

According to the BOCSAR figures, the number of breaches of Apprehended Violence Orders before the courts has increased by 46% from 2019 to 2023 across New South Wales. 

The number of Apprehended Violence Orders granted also increased by 20% during the same period. 

Overall, the statistical data on domestic violence shows that despite government spending at a federal and State level along with changes to the law, and the money invested in training and resources for first responders, it continues unabated. 

Court matters relating to all significant DV offences has steadily increased since 2019 according to NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) – by almost 30% (29%) for matters relating to assault and by more than 50% (51%) for matters primarily relating to intimidation and stalking.

Coercive control laws now in effect

This month in New South Wales, coercive control laws come into effect. 

These laws make controlling an intimate partner via abuse a criminal offence. 

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Bill 2022 (NSW) inserts a new section 54D into the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) which makes defines the offence of ‘abusive behaviour towards current or former partner’, or ‘coercive control’, as occurring where the following elements are proved beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • A person is was at least 18 years of age (‘the defendant’),
  • The defendant engaged in a course of conduct against another person (‘the complainant’)
  • The defendant’s course of conduct consisted of abusive behaviour against the complainant,
  • The defendant and complainant were or are intimate partners, 
  • The defendant intended by the course of conduct to coerce or control the complainant, and
  • A reasonable person would consider that the course of conduct would be likely, in all of the circumstances, to have caused any or all of the following, whether or not the fear or impact was in fact caused:
  • Fear that violence would be used against the complainant or another person, or serious adverse impact on the capacity of the complainant to engage in some or all of his or her ordinary day-to-day activities. 

The definition of ‘abusive behaviour’ is that which consists of or involves violence or threats against, or intimidation of, the complainant, or coercion or control of the complainant in ways which: 

  • Causes harm to a child if a person fails to comply with demands made of them,
  • Causes harm to the complainant, or another adult, if the complainant fails to comply with demands made of the person,
  • Is economically or financially abusive to the complainant. 
  • Shames, degrades or humiliates the complainant 
  • Directly or indirectly harasses the complainant, or monitors or tracks his or her activities, communications or movements, whether by physically following the complainant, using technology or in another way, 
  • Damages or destroys the complainant’s property,
  • Causes injury or death to an animal, or otherwise makes use of an animal to threaten the complainant, or
  • Deprives the complainant of his or her liberty, restricts his or her liberty or otherwise unreasonably controls or regulates his or her day-to-day activities
  • Prevents the complainant from doing any of the following ,or otherwise isolating him or her from:

(i) making or keeping connections with his or her family, friends or culture,

(ii) participating in his or her cultural or spiritual ceremonies or practices, or

(iii) expressing his or her cultural identity.

Last year, research by BOSCAR detailed the prevalence of ‘coercive control’ type behaviours in domestic violence incidents reported to NSW Police. It found that at least one type of coercive control behaviour was prevalent in 57% of DV offence reports – the most common being property damage and theft (26%), intimidation and threats (24%) and verbal abuse (23%).   

The coercive control laws have long been considered a way to assist victims before violence escalates. How effective they are remains to be seen. 

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Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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