The government must act on the link between domestic abuse and suicide by urgently establishing a national database of every woman who takes their own life after suffering abuse, bereaved relatives and campaigners have demanded.
The renewed calls come following the end of a landmark inquest into the death of Jessica ‘Jessie’ Laverack which concluded that the “underlying cause of her illness [was] domestic abuse”.
It is believed to be the first time in the UK that a coroner has explicitly recognised the link between domestic abuse and suicide.
The coroner has also written to the Home Secretary to press for “the need for the recognition of the link between domestic abuse and suicide” at all levels of society.
A government spokesperson told Channel 4 News that ministers were working “to better understand and tackle suicides which take place following domestic abuse”, insisting work was being done to better collate data on the issue.
Jessie Laverack fled more than 50 miles in 2017 to escape her ex-partner Patrick Walsh, who was accused of subjecting her to violence, sexual abuse and controlling behaviour.
On one occasion, the 34-year-old reported being strangled “to the point of losing consciousness”.
Ms Laverack was found dead at her home in Beverley, east Yorkshire in February 2018. She had reported feeling suicidal to multiple agencies – including the police – before her death, saying she was “living in fear” as her ex-partner attempted to find her.
Phyllis Daly, Jessica’s mother, successfully fought for an Article Two inquest – a rarer but more forensic investigation – into her daughter’s death.
Ms Daly’s work led to a significant judgement, with Coroner Lorraine Harris saying “the recognition of suicidality and its link to domestic abuse was given insufficient weight” throughout her daughter’s care.
Criticising the multi-agency failings in the case and the lack of understanding over the risk of suicide, Ms Harris said: “Instead of standing alone they should have been holding hands to form a protective circle around Jessie”.
In her first television interview since the ruling, Phyllis Daly told Channel 4 News: “People need to look at how many victims are out there. Somebody has to start collecting these figures – I think it is going to be a national shock when people start realising.”
She described her late daughter as the “most beautiful, bubbly, fun person you could ever wish to meet”, adding: “I still leave her voicemails so I can hear her voice.”
Mr Walsh denied ever abusing Ms Laverack at the inquest, insisting they “very much loved each other” and were planning a future together before her death.
The inquest also heard how police had charged Mr Walsh with assaulting Ms Laverack but the case was dropped when she withdrew her involvement in the investigation.
Channel 4 News has approached Mr Walsh for comment.
Ms Harris was so alarmed by the evidence heard about Ms Laverack’s care during the inquest that she also issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report.
She has written to the Home Secretary as well as the Justice Secretary and Health Secretary to demand improved training and domestic abuse-suicide awareness for frontline police officers and other agencies.
“There is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken,” she wrote.
The letter was sent at the end of June. Every government department is yet to respond.
The extent of domestic abuse-related suicide remains relatively unknown but what research has been done has been described as “harrowing”.
Figures obtained by Channel 4 News last year found that 20% of all the female survivors who entered Refuge’s services between April 2020 and March 2021 had previously attempted to take their own life, with a further 42% saying they had experienced suicidal thoughts.
Another recent study by the Home Office and police chiefs covering the first year of the pandemic identified 38 domestic abuse-related suicides – although this only focused on those with a reported history of abuse to police so is likely a significant underestimation.
A Home Office spokesperson insisted that work was being done to count every victim of domestic abuse who takes their own life, but could not provide further detail.
Jessie Laverack’s case has fuelled calls for a more urgent national strategy to collate comprehensive data and protect the mental health of victims.
Ruth Davison, chief executive of Refuge, said: “Refuge calls for deaths by suicide as a result of domestic abuse to be recorded in the domestic homicide stats, and to be subject to domestic homicide reviews. It is rare that perpetrators are prosecuted for their culpability when a survivor dies by suicide, and this must change. Perpetrators must be held to account.”
Lucy Hadley, head of policy at Women’s Aid, said: “It is critical that, where someone has died by suicide and there has been a known history of domestic abuse, it is recognised as a ‘victim suicide’.”
A government spokesperson said its domestic abuse strategy focused on tackling the suicide of victims, including updating police guidance to ensure officers “consider whether domestic abuse was a contributing factor in cases of unexplained deaths and suspected suicides.”
The spokesperson added: “Deaths related to domestic abuse are a tragedy, and we are committed to working across government to fully support all victims and survivors who have escaped from domestic abuse.”
Produced by Jamie Roberton