A groundbreaking investigation has concluded that police officers who have doubts over the immigration status of domestic abuse victims should not share their data with the Home Office.
Three police oversight bodies have published a report into the first ever “super-complaint”, which was submitted by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters, about the police practice of sharing victims’ immigration information with the Home Office.
The investigation concluded the practice was causing “significant harm” to the public interest, as victims of crime with “insecure” immigration status would not report crimes to police for fear of having their information shared with the Home Office, leaving them vulnerable to further abuse.
The report said consideration should be given to a complete firewall, preventing all data-sharing between police forces and the Home Office, although it acknowledged this too could be damaging to the public interest. The government has previously rejected attempts to introduce such a mechanism into legislation.
But in respect of domestic abuse victims, where there is no clear evidence an immigration offence has been committed, the report recommended police should immediately stop sharing their data with immigration enforcement.
The investigation was conducted by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
A lawyer at Liberty, Lara ten Caten, said: “Right now, data sharing between the police and Home Office leaves many afraid to report crimes in case they or their loved ones have their data shared with immigration enforcement as a result.
“The demand for change has been growing for some time and this report makes it impossible for the government and police to ignore any longer”.
“We are calling for police and government to go further than the recommendations in this report by committing to a data firewall to safeguard all victims and witnesses of crime – not just domestic abuse victims”.
The investigation showed that it was not clear if sharing information between the police and the Home Office on victims and witnesses of crime with insecure immigration status was for immigration enforcement purposes, but in some cases the information was used for this reason.
It found evidence that in some cases, police prioritised immigration enforcement over safeguarding victims of crime. In addition, there was no evidence that sharing of personal victim data between the police and the Home Office supported safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse.
The three oversight bodies recommended that where officers only had concerns or doubts about a domestic abuse victims’s immigration status, and no evidence of an offence had been established, they should immediately stop sharing information with immigration enforcement.
This included victims of honour-based abuse and female genital mutilation. The Home Office revealed that in 2019-2020 forces recorded 2,024 honour-based abuse crimes in the first official statistics on the issue.
The report recommended that instead, police officers should link the victim to a third party that can provide advice.
Michael Lockwood, IOPC director general said: “Victims must have confidence that, regardless of their immigration status, their allegations will be robustly investigated and given a high priority”.
“Domestic abuse is a horrific crime and it is deeply concerning that we found vulnerable people were afraid to report crimes for fear of information being shared with immigration enforcement”.
The National Police Chief’s Council lead for immigration crime, Shaun Sawyer chief constable for Devon and Cornwall police said: “The police priority is to protect victims and investigate crime, and we are extremely careful about doing anything to deter victims from reporting to us”.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our priority is to protect the public and victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.
“There are many examples of when data sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement has helped vulnerable people, such as victims of domestic abuse, access support services and secure their immigration status”.
“We are closely reviewing this report’s recommendations and will respond in due course”.