First response | College of Policing (2023)

When access to property is denied

A victim may deny officers entry to the property on arrival, either when the victim has called 999 themselves or when the call has come from a member of the public. This may be because the perpetrator is inside the house prompting or threatening the victim to send the police away. The victim may tell officers that the perpetrator has left when this is not the case. The victim may also be subject to controlling or coercive behaviour which extends beyond any immediate physical threat. Officers should use judgement to assess why the victim is refusing or is reluctant to engage with them. If it appears to officers that it is out of fear, this in itself should be seen and recorded as a risk factor.

The perpetrator may also refuse entry, claiming that nothing has happened. Officers should ask to see any other person in the house. Where this is refused but officers have reason to believe that there are others in the house, this may give grounds to invoke a power of entry under section PACE 17(e). If other persons are seen by officers and indicate that there is nothing wrong, officers should again use judgement to assess if fear may be a factor.

Where access to the property is denied, this does not necessarily mean that no entry is possible. It does, however, mean that any decision to enter in spite of objection by the victim or another person must be legally justifiable. Officers should accurately record both the power of entry invoked and the reasons why it is believed to apply.

Concern for welfare alone has been held to be insufficient to justify entry under PACE section 17(e). The purpose of ‘saving life or limb’ in that provision has been interpreted as meaning that there should be a ‘fear that something has happened or may happen which would involve serious injury to a person’ (Syed v DPP[2010] EWHC 81 (Admin)).

Considering the use of powers of entry will sometimes involve very fine judgements and officers may wish to seek advice from a domestic abuse expert or supervisor

Medical treatment and forensic medical examination

Officers should make an immediate assessment of the need for first aid or other medical assistance such as an ambulance. They should also consider the need to request and/or complete an early evidence kit (EEK), according to local procedures.

If a victim refuses medical help, officers should document injuries in as much detail as possible. This could include the use of a body map, photographs and BWV as well as a written description. Victims may sometimes refuse treatment because they are concerned about leaving their children. Officers should consider safe and appropriate care for children and reassure the victim that they will be kept safe.

It may be necessary to ensure that the victim receives medical treatment at a hospital, health centre or sexual assault referral centre (SARC). If this is the case, a police officer should accompany the victim in order to maintain the continuity and integrity of the evidence, and to coordinate any investigations undertaken. It is important that all materials (medical items, packaging, protective clothing) used in the examination are from recognised and approved evidence collection kits. Where the use of surgery or hospital equipment is unavoidable, a control sample should be obtained, for example, a hospital swab, and any blankets or sheets should be seized and individually packaged and prepared as an exhibit at the scene.

If a forensic medical examination is necessary, the officer or crime scene investigator (CSI) should explain the reason to the victim. The forensic physician is responsible for obtaining consent. The victim should be asked if they have any preference regarding the gender of the doctor. They should be informed that their preference of doctor might not be possible, depending upon the local availability of doctors.

When separate individuals involved in the same case require a forensic medical examination, different forensic physicians at different locations should examine them. Where this is not possible, forensic cleaning should take place along with other measures to avoid any cross-contamination of evidence.

Officers andCSIsshould avoid cross-contamination of scenes and should, where possible, avoid attending both the scene and any forensic medical examination. For issues about theforensic medical examination of children, seeAPP on child abuse.

An appointed forensic physician or other suitably trained and authorised health service personnel should conduct forensic medical examinations in suitably equipped medical rooms.

Duties in relation to safeguarding


A child is any person under the age of 18. The police have a duty to protect children from harm. In all investigations the principle that the welfare of the child is paramount should be observed. Officers should seek to establish whether any children ordinarily resident in the household or present are subject to child protection plans.

Officers investigating domestic abuse offences should identify whether a child was present when the incident occurred, or whether a child is ordinarily resident at the address where it occurred. When officers do not see children, they should ask if children are resident at the address and should look for signs of children, such as clothing and toys. They should check bedrooms. Where they are told children are on the premises, officers should ensure they see each child to check that they are safe and well.

Whether officers speak to the child depends on the nature of the incident and likelihood of injury. In some circumstances it may not be in the best interest of the child for officers to speak to them at the time, for example, if they remained asleep during the incident and were unaware of it. If officers have any immediate concern for the safety of the child, they should speak to the child, reassure them and enquire about their welfare, avoiding any direct questioning or comment about the specific incident. Concerns should be followed up according to local procedures, for example, referral to a neighbourhood policing team for follow-up action or enquiries with partners such as schools or nurseries regarding the child’s welfare.

Even where it appears the child is already aware of the incident, first response officers should only ask sufficient questions to establish the safety of the child, crime scene location, suspect identity and location, and to ensure the preservation of evidence. They should record all questions and answers for the preparation of any subsequent interview. It is important to allow the child to answer without interruption.

Officers do not need parental consent to speak with the child but, if it is refused, officers should record all requests for consent to interview and should consult and involve children’s social care departments as appropriate.

Children exposed to domestic abuse are subject to harm and risk. Allowing this to happen may amount to an offence of child neglect, which means the child may be a direct victim as well as a witness. Seechild abuse investigationsfor further information. Officers must consider referral to theCAIU(or force equivalent) or local authority children’s social care (LACSC) departments in all cases where a child is believed to have witnessed a domestic abuse incident. Where it appears necessary to arrest both parents to investigate an offence, officers should seek advice from a supervisor as to how this should be done, for example, identifying a primary perpetrator or a sequence of arrests to ensure the child is not left without at least one parent at any time.

If the child is a potential witness to the domestic abuse, either as an observer or as a victim in their own right, they should be interviewed in accordance with the guidelines set out inMinistry of Justice (2022) Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and using special measures. Officers should consider involving a registered intermediary from the outset.

Where there is any concern for the welfare or safety of a child, officers should make a notification to the police child abuse investigation unit (CAIU), or force equivalent, and seek advice. Any referrals made to LACSC should, where possible, be made by officers from the specialist unit.

Where necessary, officers should consider exercising police powers of protection under the Children Act 1989section 46. SeeAPPon child abuse,police protection.

Officers attending domestic abuse incidents should record the following details of children present at the time of the incident or ordinarily resident at an address where a domestic abuse incident has occurred:

  • name, including other family names and any previously used names
  • date of birth
  • sex
  • normal address
  • general practitioner
  • primary carer or care arrangements for looked-after children
  • school or nursery
  • full details of the child’s circumstances, as witnessed by the officer, to include personal welfare, cleanliness, communication ability, injuries and demeanour
  • details of anything said by the child
  • full details of other children ordinarily present at the address

Vulnerable adults

The broad definition of a vulnerable adult is a person:

Who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation

Lord Chancellor’s Department, Who Decides (1997)

The offence of ill-treatment or willful neglect of a person lacking capacity, under theMental Capacity Act 2005(MCA)section 44, can be committed by anyone responsible for that adult’s care and support. This includes familial carers or a family member holding a power of attorney for the vulnerable adult and can therefore be domestic abuse. Willful neglect normally refers to a deliberate failure by a person to do something they knew they had a duty to do. Ill-treatment covers both deliberate ill-treatment and reckless acts resulting in ill-treatment.

Under theMCA, people must be assumed to have capacity to make their own decisions. If a person is found to lack capacity, then any decision taken on their behalf must be made in their best interests.

Officers must work in line with theMCA. This is particularly challenging where a person appears to have capacity but the decisions they are making place them at risk of abuse or neglect. Officers should seek advice from supervisors and use professional judgement to balance competing factors. If in doubt, officers should consider it unlikely that they will be criticised for taking steps to make a person safe against their will when the officers consider, with good reason, that the person cannot make a properly informed decision about their welfare.

The Department of HealthCare and Support Statutory Guidance (2014)recommends consideration of the following factors when determining what action to take following a local authority enquiry into suspected abuse of a vulnerable adult, underthe Care Act 2014section 42:

  • the adult’s needs for care and support
  • the adult’s risk of abuse or neglect
  • the adult’s ability to protect themselves or the ability of their networks to increase the support they offer
  • the impact on the adult, their wishes
  • the possible impact on important relationships
  • potential of action and increasing risk to the adult
  • the risk of repeated or increasingly serious acts involving children, or another adult at risk of abuse or neglect

Consideration of these factors may assist police officers applying thenational decision model (NDM)when responding to a domestic abuse incident involving a vulnerable person, or in a household where a vulnerable person is present. Although consent should normally be obtained for referral to adult services or other intervention, the person’s safety must be the overriding consideration.

Officers should:

  • establish if any vulnerable adults are ordinarily resident at the address
  • ensure they see the person to ensure they are safe and well
  • ascertain whether they can access support if needed – for example, whether they are able to call the police in the event of an incident – and carry out immediate safety planning if not
  • flag the need for early consideration of special measures if an offence is suspected of which they are a victim or witness
  • make the appropriate referral to adult services if there is any concern for the vulnerable person’s welfare or safety

For further information seeMental Capacity Act 2005.

Build rapport

Checklist: Actions on arrival at the sceneprovides information on how officers should ensure the safety of victims and children and preserve evidence. To achieve this, officers must establish a rapport and effective communication with the victim.

If an incident is handled effectively and sympathetically on the first occasion, the victim is more likely to have the confidence to call the police again if the situation recurs. Establishing a good rapport also means the victim is more likely to cooperate with the risk assessment and safety planning process, thereby improving the chances of preventing or reducing future incidents.

Many factors can prevent a victim from giving a full and frank account of what has happened. There may be hostility or distrust based on the victim’s previous experiences with the police. It may be difficult to access the premises if the victim refuses entry. Victims may be misusing substances or experiencing mental ill health. They may be traumatised by years of abuse, feel terrified of their partner or have come to accept the abuse as normal.

Why a victim might appear unwilling to engage

You might be thinkingThe victim might be thinking any of the following
The victim will not leave.
  • It is not safe.
  • He will come looking for us and kill us if we do, he said so.
  • She will take it out on the kids if I leave and she will not let me see them.
  • I am transitioning to a woman, at least he accepts me how I am. He tells me no-one else will and I am sure he is right.
  • Where will I go? How will I live without the income?
The victim refuses to make a statement.
  • I am frightened of the consequences.
  • He will see it and know what I said about him.
  • I will have to go to court and give evidence against her, it will be humiliating
The victim answers the perpetrator’s calls and texts or even initiates them.
  • If I ignore her, she will come round and shout outside the window and wake up all the neighbours.
  • He will just carry on phoning until I answer
The victim lets the perpetrator into their home.
  • He will break in and assault me if I do not let him in.
  • She has threatened to go and burn down mum’s house if I do not let her in
The victim will not support a prosecution.
  • Last time I did, the case got dropped and I got battered to punish me for calling the police.
  • If he goes to prison, he has got to come out some time and then I will be sorry.
  • He is a pillar of the community. The judge will believe him, not me – I never finished school and I am stupid, he says so all the time
  • The victim will not speak to the police.
  • If the police become involved, so will social services and the children will be taken away.
  • I am in and out of court for shoplifting, who is going to believe me?
  • I have got mental health issues, the police will not believe me and I will just get sectioned.
  • Last time I did, they arrested me and treated me like a suspect before figuring out I was the victim.
  • No-one will believe I was assaulted by a woman/by my own child.
  • They just think it is my own fault for being gay.
  • I will be sent back if they find out I am an illegal immigrant

See also:

Officers must avoid being dismissive or judgemental towards the victim, especially if they are frequently called to the same address. It is important to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and to empathise with victims who choose not to, or are unable to, end an abusive relationship. The role of the police is to protect, not judge.

Whether or not a victim ends, or continues to return to, a violent relationship, officers still have a duty to fully investigate the incident and provide appropriate support. Victims are entitled to call the police if they are frightened or feel unsafe, without having to worry about whether or not they will be believed. Officers must take careto ensure the victim understands that the incident is being taken seriously. Where a victim feels unsupported or disbelieved themselves, they are less likely to support police action.

A victim who refuses to engage with the police may be prepared to work with other domestic abuse services – officers should always consider referring a victim to specialist domestic abuse services, even if they are not engaging with the police.

Officers can help to put victims at ease and encourage cooperation by explaining their actions, for example, why they are talking to the children or why they need medical consent and what the consent relates to.

Carry out an initial investigation

Although there may be specialist involvement in the investigation at a later stage, this depends on individual force arrangements for handling domestic abuse cases. The first responder is often the only investigator, especially in cases which are initially identified as standard risk. The investigation must, therefore, be progressed as much as possible at the first opportunity. Where a dedicated domestic abuse resource is available for consultation, the first responder should make use of them, but they should also themselves be familiar with the detailed information ininvestigative developmentin domestic abuse cases.

Unsupportive victims and the evidence-led approach

It is common for victims not to support, or to appear not to support, the police, an investigation or criminal proceedings for a variety of reasons. Officers should not assume that investigating the incident in such circumstances will not result in a positive outcome, and should take steps to build a case for a potential evidence-led prosecution, namely, a prosecution based on hearsay or circumstantial evidence, or featuring a hostile witness. The first responder should look for corroborating evidence immediately on arrival at the scene as this is the best opportunity to investigate. SeeAPP in initial investigationandgolden hour principles. If the officer has body-worn video, they should consider turning it on as soon as they arrive at the scene or at the point of assignment to the call, in accordance with force instructions.

Officers should ensure that they read and use theJointNPCCandCPSEvidence Gathering Checklist for use by Police Forces andCPSin Cases of Domestic Abuse.

At the scene, officers should consider calling a crime scene examiner and think about:

  • physical evidence‒ clothing and bedding, weapons, signs of disturbance
  • forensics‒ blood pattern distribution, other biological evidence, footwear, DNA
  • photographic evidence
  • CCTV
  • house-to-house enquiries
  • technology and social media‒ mobile phones, social media, email

Additional information and intelligence gathering to build on call handler information could include:

  • further database checks –PNC,PND,ViSOR,ASSIST
  • foreign intelligence checks
  • bad character evidence
  • medical records
  • financial information
  • prison intelligence
  • ANPR
  • CCTV
  • covert tacticsandsources


  • Checklist: Lines of enquiry
  • Checklist: Use of photographic evidence
  • Checklist: Evidence-led prosecution

Scene protection

Scene protection considerations are most likely to apply where there has been an immediate report. Although delayed reports may limit opportunities for forensic evidence, these should still be explored.

Where evidence gathering is likely to be complex, for example, if there are multiple scenes or specialist forensic techniques are needed, officers should seek advice from a supervisor, domestic abuse specialist or crime scene expert.

Scene protection should primarily focus on the immediate scene, as indicated by the initial crime complaint. It may also include other scenes that provide supporting evidence for previous or ongoing incidents. First responders should note that other crimes often occur alongside domestic abuse incidents, such as child abuse or sexual abuse, but these types of offences are not always immediately apparent. Seeidentification, reporting and associated investigations.

The suspect is likely to have had legitimate access to the scene but there is still potential for forensic evidence to corroborate the victim or witness account.

The following scene protection guidelines should be put into place when it is safe to do so, in a manner which ensures that personal safety is not compromised and any material of evidential value is preserved. For more information seeAPPon Investigation –Scene strategy. See alsoAPPon Civil emergencies – Securing the scene –Legal issuesfor police common law powers to set up a cordon.

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