NEW powers to tackle anyone who exhibits controlling behaviour towards their partner are being used more frequently by police in Cumbria.

Officers on the force deployed the law on controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship to charge four people in the county in 2016.

But its use was almost doubled during the first seven months of 2017 when seven people were charged with the offence, figures uncovered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have revealed.

However national experts say the law is 'difficult to apply', with some branding the number of charges brought forward nationwide as too low.

Cumbria's Detective Inspector and deputy force lead for domestic abuse, Dan St Quintin, explained all officers on the force had received training on the legislation so it could be used whenever appropriate.

“Cumbria Constabulary treats domestic abuse very seriously," he said.

“All frontline officers and staff have been trained on this piece of legislation as part of wider training on domestic abuse. They are using it wherever possible.

“We are also using new technology, like body worn video cameras to gather more evidence.

"Already, this is increasing the confidence of our victims and increasing conviction rates at court," DI St Quintin added.

Coercive behaviour is defined by police as acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim.

The law was introduced in 2015 to curb cases of domestic abuse that did not necessarily feature violence.

But the figures uncovered by TBIJ using the Freedom of Information Act from 29 of 39 police forces found it had been used in on very few occasions in some areas.

Lancashire Police, Cumbria's neighbouring force, brought a total of four charges over the period despite having a significantly higher population of more than 1.4 million people.

At the the opposite end of the scale, others, like Suffolk Constabulary, had used the law to charge 54 individuals with just 745,000 people within its operational boundaries.

David Tucker, crime lead at the College of Policing, acknowledged there had been issues with the take up of the new law.

"The current way we do risk assessment doesn’t take enough account of the course of behaviour that runs up to the moment the police are normally called," he told the Bureau.

“We, as police, will often deal with what is presented in front of us, but with coercive and controlling behaviour you have to spend more time asking questions, to slowly find out about what could have gone on over years."

Anyone who has suffered any form of domestic abuse, physical or mental, is encouraged to get in touch with police in Cumbria on 101."

ABUSE victims in Copeland will be able to access extra support to find accommodation after the number facing homelessness rocketed by 25 per cent in just 18 months.

Anyone who has suffered or is at risk of domestic abuse or sexual exploitation can now visit a dedicated officer in the district who can provide support and advice.

It is hoped the move, by Copeland Borough Council, will help even more victims in the run up to Christmas when cases are known to rise.

Councillor Mark Holliday, project lead at the authority for the prevention of domestic abuse, said: “As member champion and lead of this project I am making reducing the scourge of domestic abuse my number one priority and will continue to support the efforts we are making.

“The sheer scale of this terrible issue in our borough makes me fully committed to reducing the impact.”

Cllr Holliday's comments were echoed by Copeland Mayor Mike Starkie, who added: “This is just one of a range of projects we are committed to and championing to address social issues across the borough.”

In addition to employing the Specialist Prevention and Crisis Support Officer, the council is also set to provide two properties that are specially adapted for victims of abuse and exploitation.

These properties will provide emergency accommodation for victims who present as homeless to ensure they have a safe place to stay.

One will be designed specifically for victims with children.