THE PSNI has apologised for suggesting that migrants might make fake domestic abuse claims in order to stay in Northern Ireland.
The force made the claim in a September 2020 letter, although human rights groups were only made aware of it recently.
A women’s rights organisation said the letter “reinforces dangerous myths about victims of domestic violence”.
Under a UK-wide policy, police in Britain and Northern Ireland have shared data on thousands of migrant victims of crime with the British Home Office over several years.
The practice has been widely condemned by campaigners including the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.
The PSNI told Stormont’s Justice Committee in 2020 that if it stopped sharing migrant victims’ data some people could make fake domestic abuse claims in order to avoid deportation.
In the letter, the force said it shared data as per guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council “to ensure where possible, we apply the same policing operating principles as GB colleagues”.
It added that “were the PSNI to take an alternative position, such has a reasonable prospect of leading to a situation where persons may come to this part of the United Kingdom with a view to making a spurious allegation of domestic violence or abuse for potential gain or favour in immigration matters”.
The letter was written during discussions about domestic abuse legislation. At the time, MLAs were considering whether to implement a ‘firewall’ to prevent migrant domestic abuse victims’ data from being shared with the Home Office.
However, a firewall was not included as part of the legislation.
Elaine Crory, chair of the Women’s Policy Group Northern Ireland, said the PSNI letter “reinforces dangerous myths about victims of domestic violence”.
“We remain deeply concerned that the PSNI justified their policy of sharing victim and witness data with the home office by claiming that it was necessary in order to prevent ‘spurious’ claims of domestic violence from migrants,” she said.
“This logic is not only inaccurate but also reinforces dangerous myths about victims of domestic violence and may perpetuate an environment where victims do not feel safe to report to police out of fear of not being believed.
“While we appreciate that the PSNI have apologised for their ‘choice of wording’, our main concern is the justification which was used, not the way it was phrased.”
When The Detail asked the PSNI about the allegation made in the 2020 letter, a spokesman said: “There is no suggestion that false reports of domestic abuse have been made in order to gain advantage in respect of immigration matters.”
The spokesman added that the statement was made in the context of “highlighting potential risks within the UK of an inconsistent approach between UK policing to sharing information with the Home Office”.
The PSNI has now written to the Policing Board’s human rights adviser, the Stormont Justice Committee, and groups including the Migrant Centre NI, to apologise.
In correspondence seen by The Detail, PSNI Chief Superintendent Gerard Pollock said police “acknowledged the language in the original September 2020 correspondence could cause offence and I apologised for that choice of wording”.
“I would again make clear that there is no suggestion that false reports of domestic abuse have been made in order to gain advantage in respect of immigration matters,” he said.
The Detail revealed last month that the PSNI had given information on at least 33 victims of domestic abuse and other crimes to Home Office Immigration Enforcement between May 2020 and May 2022.
At a Policing Board meeting earlier this month, PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said the PSNI will carry out a new equality screening of its data sharing policy.
A PSNI spokesman added that it is “also conducting a further examination of our legal obligations”.