Thames Valley police investigated more than 1,000 allegations of domestic abuse in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, but fewer than 40 suspects were prosecuted, figures show.

December marked the sixth anniversary of landmark legislation introduced to make coercive or controlling behaviour a criminal offence in England and Wales.

But only a "small minority of survivors" who experience such abuse will see justice done, according to charity Women's Aid.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics shows Thames Valley Police logged 1,005 allegations of coercive or controlling behaviour during 2020-21.

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That was up from 806 the year before – and different figures suggest most cases will never reach a courtroom.

Of the 713 cases closed by the force in Thames Valley during 2020-21, 94 per cent were abandoned due to difficulties gathering evidence while just 37 ended with a suspect being charged or summonsed to court.

Women's Aid described coercive control, which is punishable by up to five years imprisonment, as a problem "at the heart of almost all domestic abuse".

Abusers can be jailed for subjecting a partner or family member to controlling behaviour such as isolating them, exploiting them financially, depriving them of basic needs, humiliating, frightening or threatening them.

Despite the low rate of successful prosecutions, Thames Valley Police were still able to bring several domestic abusers to justice in 2021.

Bucks Free Press: Ahmed Abdul-RahmanAhmed Abdul-Rahman

In July, Ahmed Abdul-Rahman, of Granby Court in Milton Keynes, was jailed for seven years after he admitted to several violent offences against his victim.

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Abdul-Rahman assaulted the woman multiple times, breaking her jaw and bursting her eardrum in attacks which took place over several years.

At Aylesbury Crown Court, Abdul-Rahman, 33, pleaded guilty to two counts of grievous bodily harm, two counts of actual bodily harm and one count of controlling or coercive behaviour.

Bucks Free Press: James StewartJames Stewart

Another offender, James Stewart, of Yew Tree Close in Beaconsfield, was jailed for two years in November.

Aylesbury Crown Court heard how Stewart physically and emotionally abused his victim, hitting her with a crutch, biting her, slapping her and putting his arm around her throat.

Pleading guilty to controlling or coercive behaviour and criminal damage, the 42-year-old was also given a six-year restraining order against his victim.

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During the first year of the pandemic, 34,000 allegations were reported to forces across England and Wales, with the number of recorded crimes rising by more than a third compared to around 25,000 in 2019-20, though data for that year excludes Greater Manchester Police.

Home Office figures show more than nine in 10 investigations closed nationally in 2020-21 were dropped due to evidential difficulties, while just 4% resulted in a charge or summons being issued.

In some cases, prosecutors and investigators may close a coercive control investigation but continue to pursue other offences linked to the case.

Isabelle Younane, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Women's Aid, called for consistency between forces and said it is vital all police officers and prosecutors understand the nature and "damaging, lifelong impact" of coercive control.

She added: “Survivors need, and deserve, a consistent response to their experiences of abuse."

"It is a matter of urgency for the Government to invest in multi-agency and partnership working across services."

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said the response to the complex problem had improved in recent years but acknowledged the need for better understanding across the justice system.

He said officers sought to safeguard victims and build cases where reported incidents meet the requirements to be considered a crime but not the threshold for arrest or prosecution.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the Government is acting to tackle the "particularly insidious" form of domestic abuse and will publish its Domestic Abuse Strategy this year.

She said police forces are expected to take allegations seriously, adding: "The increase in reporting of these crimes shows the improvements the police have made, with victims more willing to come forward."