‘Tis the season to be jolly - but an investigation has revealed the crimes that make Christmas anything but merry for many Northern Ireland families.
Festive family fallouts meant over a third of all Christmas Day 999 calls to Police in Northern Ireland last year centered around violence, with many of them heartbreaking cases of domestic abuse.
And while most people spend their big day tucking into turkey and giving presents, our police probe has revealed the region’s boys in blue spent last December 25 investigating sex crimes, deaths and drugs.
But our investigation under the Freedom of Information act has revealed the shocking scope of domestic violence, which ruins Christmas Day for so many families in the region.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) revealed that there was an incident of domestic violence every 20 minutes last Christmas.
“Christmas is meant to be a time of joy, a time of generosity, a time of caring. But for too many women and children, the 25th December will be yet another day of living with fear, intimidation and violence.”
Those are the words of Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic violence charity Refuge, who said that for some women and children, Christmas can be an incredibly difficult time due to domestic violence.
She was speaking after our probe revealed police investigated more than one violent crime an hour last Christmas, with officers called out to a crime on average every 20 minutes.
And across Britain, our investigation showed these violent crimes were more often than not committed in the family home.
“Some police forces see increases in reports of domestic violence incidents at Christmas. This may be because many police forces run high profile awareness campaigns around Christmas time,” added Sandra.
“It can be very difficult for a woman experiencing domestic violence to access support during the festive period – a period when her abusive partner may be spending more time at home and monitoring her behavior more closely than ever.
“Domestic violence is an abuse of power – it is the repeated, habitual use of violence and intimidation to control another person. We cannot blame domestic violence on Christmas, alcohol, drugs, unemployment, stress, money worries or ill health. These are just excuses for an abuser’s behavior”.
Two women a week are killed nationally as a direct result of domestic violence, while one in four women will be subjected to it during their lives.
According to Sandra said, for some, domestic abuse is part of their whole lives - not just something experienced over Christmas. She added: “The police should be encouraging women to reach out for support every day of the year, not just at Christmas.”
The PSNI has now launched a campaign against domestic violence this Christmas, with Det Ch Supt George Clarke adding: “The sad reality is that at this time of year, the number of domestic incidents increase.”
Our investigation is designed to show just what our region’s police have to deal with when on-duty on Christmas.
In total, officers were called to 481 incidents or crimes across the country.
The majority of these were classed as non-crimes, and included ten sudden deaths, four hoax calls and 11 suspicious vehicles.
They also had to deal with 14 criminals or suspects who thought Christmas Day was the perfect day to breach their bail.
The most common crimes officers encounter are violent crimes and vehicle damage, but while Christmas is a day of joy for many, for some it is a day of misery.
Officers also dealt with sexual offences and a killing, while four families had their Christmas ruined by burglers.
“People seem to think that because it’s Christmas, the world just stops and that includes crime,” said a police source.
“But as you can see, it’s just like any other day in terms of what we have to deal with. In many ways it is worse because you have that cocktail of drink and family which is often the fuel behind so much crime.
“And because it’s Christmas, it’s usually the day you get some of the weirdest crimes of the year.”
Around the UK these include everything from Christmas trees being used as weapons to a man shooting his brother in the backside.
Around a quarter of Northern Irish incidents occurred in Belfast City, which is perhaps unsurprisingly the Christmas crime capital of Northern Ireland.
But in total, the force received 793 calls that day, almost one every two minutes.
And with the big day approaching, the police source added: “People forget when they are having fun that the emergency services have to work and it isn’t a holiday for a lot of us.”