Domestic abuse soars as jobless soldiers return to civvy street

Domestic violence has soared across vast swathes of rural North Yorkshire with growing numbers of frustrated ex-servicemen who are unable to find employment fuelling the rise.

The number of reported incidents in Hambleton and Richmondshire – home to Catterick Garrison, Europe’s largest army base – has overshot predicted levels for this year by more than a third, with large social events where drinking takes place, even agricultural shows, also contributing factors in the spike.

The dramatic rise in expected numbers of cases has in part been hailed as a success by outreach workers, with victims historically reluctant to come forward due to the tight-knit nature of rural communities across both areas.

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But with tens of thousands of military personnel expected to soon be leaving the armed forces into a barren job climate in the wake of severe defence cuts, fears are growing that the still largely hidden problem could spiral.

“It is a significant increase in both areas”, said Chris Fields, senior officer on the Hambleton Community Safety Partnership.

“A lot of people coming out of the armed forces and military service come out into this area.

“People are spending more time frustrated at home.

“The economic climate has made a difference, particularly around Christmas time and it is linked to alcohol abuse as well.

“Even agricultural shows and things like that – any time there is a community gathering.

“We actually still think there are a lot more under-reported incidents of home violence.

“Some of the communities only have five or 15 houses in the village and if we hold a roadshow there they will only come forward later.

“Services in Darlington will report an increase when we host a roadshow in Richmondshire. People will go across the borders.

“They are tight-knit communities where everybody knows everyone – that puts people off.”

In last year’s strategic defence review, the Government revealed defence spending would fall by eight per cent over four years with the RAF and Navy due to lose 5,000 jobs each, the Army 7,000 and the Ministry of Defence 25,000 civilian staff.

The MOD’s ‘full resettlement programme’ is only eligible for those who have served six years or more and its ‘employment support programme’ for those who have served more than four years.

Armed forces support groups have expressed fears at the impact of the cuts and earlier this month the British Forces Resettlement Services (BFRS) held a major event at Catterick Garrison.

Coun Fleur Butler, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said: “Catterick has the highest proportion of young families in the country.

“There is a problem with military people moving back into the area and there is not the sort of employment for them.

“The type of work they are trained at is not necessarily the type of work that we have here.

“We are a rural area and we don’t have any industry.”

Neil Dean, a 36-year-old business manager at the BFRS who left the Royal Artillery regiment last year after 15 years of service, said: “Some will come out and just not be able to settle down – it can take a long time to readjust.

“They are more likely to go back to where their families live.

“It has always been hard but now it is harder for young people to get a job. If there are no jobs in Richmond then they are going to struggle. There definitely needs to be more support for these young soldiers.”

A new domestic violence campaign has been by Hambleton and Richmondshire Community Safety Partnerships with hard-hitting posters in rural communities.

Det Insp John Dwyer, head of the protecting vulnerable person’s unit at North Yorkshire police, said: “The development of people becoming more stressed due to financial restrictions and suffering depression from losing their jobs or not being able to find work can certainly influence people’s domestic home life.

“There is a number of incidents that have come to our notice in the Catterick area involving soldiers who have returned home. These figures are part and parcel of the better reporting process.”

An MOD spokesman said: “Those who have served less than four years are interviewed and signposted to the various welfare entitlements and other support offered by the Government, ex-services charities and the voluntary sector.”