6.2 Domestic Abuse: Guidance and Procedure

This procedure was updated on 13/06/23 and is currently uptodate.

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‘Abusive behaviour’ is defined in the act as any of the following:

  • physical or sexual abuse
  • violent or threatening behaviour
  • controlling or coercive behaviour
  • economic abuse
  • psychological, emotional or other abuse

For the definition to apply, both parties must be aged 16 or over and ‘personally connected’.

‘Personally connected’ is defined in the act as parties who:

  • are married to each other
  • are civil partners of each other
  • have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  • have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  • are or have been in an intimate personal relationship with each other
  • have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child
  • are relatives

Where there is DA, the well-being of any children in the household must be protected. Children who reside in a home where domestic abuse takes place are now recognised as victimes. Therefore acknowledging that the child is a victim, rather than just a witness.

All agencies must ensure their staff, carers and volunteers are fully aware of the extent and nature of the impact domestic abuse can have on children, identified in the current law as victims. Any individual organisations’ policies and procedures must provide for the need to share information with others where DA comes to their attention in their work.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 sets out that children are DA victims in their own right. 


DA can happen to anyone, but research and crime statistics consistently indicate that is a gendered issue which disproportionately affects females. There are several risk factors for becoming a victim of DA, which include age and pregnancy. Women in younger age groups, in particular those aged 16–24 years, are at greater risk. The greatest risk is for teenage mothers and during the period just after a woman has given birth (see Harrykissoon et al, 2002).


DA rarely exists in isolation and there are many complexities. For example, DA may exacerbate or lead to other issues such as mental or physical health concerns, substance misuse or family breakdown. Similarly, issues such as these will in some instances be factors in DA happening. Everyone working with women and children should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic abuse, and other issues such as mental ill health, drug and/or alcohol misuse, homelessness and housing need, deprivation and social exclusion, and child abuse and/or animal abuse.


A child is the victim of DA through exposure to DA or through their own involvement in an abusive relationship. For example, a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend who may be an adult or a young person (aged 16 or over).



In the Dometic Aubuse Act 2021 the Government definition of DA was widened to include all those up to the age of 18, and the wording changed to reflect coercive control. The definition includes ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group. The Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Partnership (BSCP) guidance on honour-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage should therefore be read in conjunction with this document.


Definition of DA (note this is not a legal definition): Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional.

Controlling behaviour: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour.


Coercive behaviour: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.

The child


Where there is DA, the implications for the children and young people in the household must be considered because research indicates a strong link between DA and all types of child abuse and neglect.


Prolonged or regular exposure to DA can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the victim’s parent to protect the child.


DA within a household is associated with an increased risk of child abuse, death and serious injury for children and young people, and the risk for young babies in environments where there is DA is a recurring theme in Serious Case Reviews (Brandon et al, 2009).


The potentially unresponsive and neglectful parenting that can be a feature of an abusive relationship between parents presents a risk to babies, children and young people. 


Research on the effects of abuse and neglect on child development has shown that babies up to 18 months of age are particularly vulnerable to developing damaged and insecure attachments to their parents when the parents are in a volatile relationship with DA. An understanding of these risks should assist with identifying the need for prompt action to protect a baby. Later in life, the child’s ability to develop social and emotional capabilities can be at serious risk. For example, research (WHO, 2010) suggests that children who are exposed to violence in childhood are between three and four times more likely to perpetrate violence in adulthood. The same research found that women who witnessed DA in their childhood may be up to three times more at risk of DA. The inference is that exposure to violence in childhood may increase acceptance of violence, either as a perpetrator or victim in adulthood. The risk of DA may be up to six times higher for women sexually abused in childhood, and up to four times higher for physical abuse (Hotaling and Sugarman, 1986).


DA can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being. Significant harm to the child as a result of DA may arise from physical injury during an incident, either by accident or because they attempt to intervene.

Exposure to domestic abuse can have a serious, long lasting emotional and psychological impact on children. In some cases, a child may blame themselves for the abuse or may have had to leave the family home as a result.


If not directly injured, children are greatly distressed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, which can lead to anxiety and distress, often resulting in:

  • behavioural issues
  • low self-esteem
  • depression
  • absenteeism
  • ill health
  • bullying
  • antisocial or criminal behaviour
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • self-harm.

Children can be victims of domestic abuse. They may see, hear, or experience the effects of abuse at home and/or suffer domestic abuse in their own intimate relationships (teenage relationship abuse). All of which can have a detrimental and long-term impact on their health, well-being, development, and ability to learn.


DA can have a negative impact on the victim's ability to look after her/his child/children as a result of physical assaults and/or psychological abuse. The child may also be drawn into the abuse or pressurised into concealing the assaults.


It should be noted that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 broadens the definition of significant harm to include the emotional harm suffered by those children who witness DA or are aware of DA within their home environment.


While there are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm, consideration of the severity of ill treatment may include:

  • the degree and extent of physical harm
  • the duration and frequency of abuse or neglect
  • the extent of premeditation
  • the degree of threats and coercion
  • evidence of sadism, and bizarre or unusual elements in child sexual abuse.

An unborn child is at risk of injury because violence towards women increases both in severity and frequency during pregnancy, and often involves punches or kicks directed at the women’s abdomen.


In almost one third of cases, DA begins or escalates during pregnancy, and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death (Department of Health, 2009). Staff providing antenatal services need to be alert to, and competent in recognising, the risks of harm to the unborn child.

The adult


Possible indicators of domestic abuse in an adult include:

  • evidence of single or repeated injuries with unlikely explanations
  • frequent use of prescribed tranquillisers or pain medication
  • injuries to the breast, chest and abdomen, especially during pregnancy
  • evidence of sexual or frequent gynaecological problems
  • frequent visits to GP with vague complaints or symptoms
  • stress or anxiety disorders; isolation from friends, family or colleagues; depression, panic attacks or other symptoms; alcohol and/or drug abuse; suicide attempts; or child presenting with behavioural difficulties at school
  • appearing frightened, ashamed or evasive; a partner who is extremely jealous or possessive; minimisation of abuse; accepting blame for ‘deserving’ the abuse 
  • irregular or late attendance for antenatal care.

When a victim is not being seen alone, staff should also be alert to the following combination of signals:

  • the victim waits for her/his partner to speak first
  • the victim glances at her/his partner each time she/he speaks, checking her/his reaction
  • the victim smoothes over any conflict
  • the partner speaks for most of the time
  • the partner sends clear signals to the victim, by eye/body movement, facial expression or verbally, to warn them
  • the partner has a range of complaints about the victim, which she/he does not defend.

Practitioners should be aware that many victims will find it difficult to disclose DA and seek support. Some victims potentially face additional difficulty in disclosing abuse, for instance:

  • older or disabled victims, including those with learning disabilities, may be dependent on the abuser for care.
  • parents may fear the removal of children (it is important to stress that unless there is evidence of serious neglect or abuse this fear is almost certainly unfounded).
  • where abuse is perpetrated by extended family members or relates to forced marriage.
  • black and minority ethnic groups, including those from the travelling community, may be more isolated due to religious and/or cultural pressures, language barriers, having no recourse to public funds or fear of bringing shame to their 'family honour'.
  • male victims who feel ashamed due to perceived stigma attached to being a man who lets a woman be violent towards him.
  • victims from same-sex relationships who fear stigma and prejudice.
  • victims with other problems, e.g. mental health or substance misuse issues may fear that they will not be believed.

Victims will want the abuse to stop, but may want to save the relationship.


Victims are at a significantly increased risk at the point of leaving, or having recently left a violent partner, and may need support and safety planning. Most homicides relating to DA take place at the point of separation or in the following few months.


Dealing with the abuse is a complex process that will take time to resolve in a way that is effective in the long term, and there may be repeated requests for help. A victim will need continuing support and the full range of services each time, not less. Victims may experience a cycle in response to the abuse and may alternate between engaging and not.


A parent and child/children fleeing from DA may require a significant level of support as they may be:

  • experiencing problems with housing, finance and employment
  • isolated from usual family support or community networks, especially if they moved/were placed outside their home area
  • struggling to provide/maintain stability.

Agency assessments information sharing


Any agency assessment should consider the possibility of DA and ensure organisational responses safeguard both the child/children and non-abusing parent.


Health professionals are often the only agency that has involvement with a family, so they have significant opportunities for direct contact and observation of families to enable them to detect potential risks to vulnerable babies. Practitioners should use evidence from their direct observation and knowledge of parents and their babies to inform assessment of risks.


There is a need for coordination between the different aspects of health provision involved with the safeguarding of babies, particularly on the transfer of care between midwifery services, health visitors and GPs. 


Multi-agency work and information sharing is crucial in safeguarding children and adults in situations of DA.


It is vital to adequately assess the heightened risks for babies that arise from DA in the home. When assessing the risk relating to DA, the unborn child must be considered as a victim and as a child who was present. Consideration must also be given to young people who may themselves be in abusive relationships.



On notification/disclosure/suspicion of DA within a family, all agencies must immediately consult existing records and consider what else is known of the family and any previous domestic incidents.


Where children are involved, all professionals should follow the advice set out in the BSCP's Neglect Guidance. Information should be shared in line with this procedure and the Buckinghamshire Code of Practice for Sharing Personal Information. Effective and timely information sharing will help ensure relevant professionals are able to assess risks to an unborn baby, child or young person, and ensure appropriate action is taken.


Each case should be judged on its own merits, and while consent is always desirable, there are times when best practice is to share information/make referrals, even when this is initially without the knowledge of the parties involved or contrary to their wishes. Where a child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm, consent is not required to make a referral to Children’s Social Care. The decision to share or not to share information of DA incidents or concerns must be recorded, with its rationale.


Where the level of need has met level 3 or 4 of the Continuum of Need Incorporating Threshold Guidance, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care using the Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF).


Where the referral is deemed by Children’s Social Care to meet the Continuum of Need Incorporating Threshold Guidance for level 3, appropriate action will be taken to assign this to the most appropriate agency to lead a coordinated, multi-agency, Early Help response to meet the needs of the whole family. Early Help in Buckinghamshire is now provided by the Family Support Service.


Where the child/children are deemed to be suffering, or are at risk of suffering, significant harm (level 4), statutory safeguarding processes will be followed, led by Children’s Social Care. Relevant agencies will be involved in the initial assessment and strategy meeting, which will determine the most appropriate course of action.


If a professional is unclear about the action they should take, they should speak to their line manager, designated safeguarding lead or seek advice from First Response. There should be no delay in taking action. Where there is immediate risk of harm to a child, call 999.


The decision about where a child’s needs fit within the Continuum of Need Incorporating Threshold Guidance will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • the age and vulnerability of the child
  • the number of previous incidents
  • whether there have been any previous serious incidents/escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents
  • whether the child themselves is involved in a violent relationship (for example an adolescent relationship).

Consultation with Children’s Social Care (First Response) can be undertaken to establish if there is any previous knowledge of the family.


Significant harm can occur where there is a single event, such as a violent assault. However, more often, significant harm is identified when there have been a number of events which have compromised the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing. 


Where there is DA in families with a child under 12 months old (including an unborn child), even if the child was not present, professionals should make a referral to Children's Social Care if there is any single incident of DA.


Any decision (and its rationale) not to refer or consult with Children's Social Care must be recorded.

The Police


Police are often the first point of contact with victims and they (or any other agency that becomes aware of DA) should safeguard the victim and:

  • ascertain whether there are any children living in the household or if the victim is pregnant
  • make a preliminary determination of the degree of exposure of the children to the incidents of abuse and its consequent impact
  • provide the victim with information on local support services and refuge details, taking into account any ethnic or cultural issues (i.e. National Helpline, local specialist agencies/helplines, Woman’s Aid or Victim Support).

At all DA calls the attending officer will complete a form Dom 5 – a risk assessment form detailing all persons present and children in the household. Where there are children under the age of 18 years in the household, the officer will then send a copy of the attendance form to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub Domestic Violence Risk Assessor.


The police will apply a jointly agreed triage process by which the safeguarding of the child will be reviewed. The police assessor will be aided by access to the child social care system and give due regard to the Continuum of Need Incorporating Threshold Guidance before determining the appropriateness of a referral to Children’s Social Care.


Children’s Social Care response to police notification

Following consultation of agency history, Children's Social Care must decide how to respond to each communication of DA

The Children's Social Care duty manager may decide to treat the communication as 'information and advice' only if:

  • the report concerns a minor incident
  • there are no other indicators of risk and there are no high-risk indicators in the police assessment.
  • Further information from other agencies may be required before a decision can be made about the appropriate threshold of response.
  • In making the decision about seeking information prior to/after direct contact with the family, consideration should be given to the:
    • likely impact on the child and the adult victim, including the possibility of increasing the risk of domestic abuse
    • need for an approach that takes full account of information available on home circumstances.
  • The police should have already provided the victim with information leaflets.
  • Careful consideration should be given to the purpose and method of contacting the family, particularly in relation to the wording of any letters sent out to the family (Humphries and Stanley, 2006, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Directions for Good Practice, supports this also).
  • Where the threshold criteria for a Children’s Social Care Child and Family Assessment or Section 47 are not met, consideration should be given to the support that can be provided by other targeted or universal service.

Child and family assessment / section 47 enquiries


Normally one serious or several lesser incidents of DA where there is a child in the household indicate that Children’s Social Care should carry out an assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records.


An assessment should also be considered, by the Children's Social Care duty manager, for lesser incidents where there are possible concerns about the welfare of the children or where the family is high risk on the police assessment.


Where the family refuse to cooperate with an assessment, consideration should be given to undertaking a Section 47 enquiry. Circumstances where a Section 47 enquiry should be undertaken include where:

  • a child has experienced harm during any domestic abuse incident (even if inadvertently injured)
  • a child has witnessed another being seriously injured or abused
  • the victim is pregnant or there is a baby under 12 months in the household (the mother needs to be 12 weeks pregnant before Children’s Social Care will accept this as a referral – see BSCP pre-birth procedures for further details)
  • there has been an escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents
  • the violence involved sexual assault or attempted strangulation, or the use of weapons or threats to kill
  • where a child is known to be involved in a violent relationship, e.g. a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend.

Whenever a Child and Family Assessment or Section 47 enquiry is undertaken, there must be liaison with all agencies involved with the family and the child/children.

Assessment process


Opportunities should be provided for both partners to be interviewed separately, and in a safe setting.


Many victims of domestic abuse feel unable to disclose its existence or severity. The following issues should be discussed with the alleged victim as part of any assessment:

  • severity, frequency and history of any abuse, threats etc
  • circumstances of the abuse and if compounded by drugs/alcohol
  • extent and nature of the children's experience of the abuse
  • perception of risk to the child/children
  • threats used – consider all household members
  • available options – immediate and in the future
  • factors that prevent the victim taking action to protect self and child/children
  • whether it is possible to share victim's perceptions with the alleged perpetrator or whether this would increase levels of risk.

The alleged victim of abuse should be advised of the availability of legal advice and the options available through the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Family Law Act 1996 Part IV.


The interview with the alleged perpetrator of the abuse should be planned carefully between the worker and their line manager. Care must be taken not to disclose addresses or other potentially sensitive information, or make unsafe contact arrangements.


If there is an acknowledgement of abuse, the interview should clarify the points above. Where there is no acknowledgement of abuse and it is not possible to share the victim's account, there should be a general discussion about the child/children's welfare.


The child/children should be interviewed (if of sufficient age and understanding) and their experiences explored. It is important to consider the possibility that a child may have experienced direct abuse her/himself and/or may be inhibited from disclosing concerns due to fear of (further) DA.



If a Child Protection Conference is held, consideration will be given to any need to exclude the violent partner for part or all of the meeting.


The local authority may pursue legal options of:

  • relocation of alleged perpetrators of abuse and if necessary relocation of victim and child/children
  • injunctions attached to a Prohibited Steps Order
  • exclusion conditions attached to an Emergency Protection Order and Interim Care Order
  • an injunction under the Housing Act 1996 (chapter III of Part V) to restrain antisocial behaviour with power of arrest attached, where abuse has occurred or is threatened.

Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAS)



The MARAC is a multi-agency meeting that provides safety planning for high-risk DA victims and their families, through formulation of a risk management plan, to ensure a joined-up approach to intervention to keep them safe. The Committee sits once a month for the north of the county (Aylesbury and Chiltern) and once a month for the south of the county (Wycombe and South Bucks). Its purpose is to discuss high risk DA cases.

The meeting is chaired by the Domestic Abuse Investigation Unit (DAIU) Detective Inspector and is attended by representatives from across a number of agencies.

  • Permanent attendees are:
    • police
    • Children’s Social Care
    • Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (IDAAs)
    • specialist domestic violence services including local Women's Aid or other refuge provider and specialist projects supporting minority communities and groups
    • health representatives (midwifery, health visitors, child protection nurse and hospital staff as appropriate)
    • housing
    • probation
    • education
    • mental health
    • local drug and alcohol services.
  • There may be additional attendees as individual cases dictate, such as:
    • community-based and voluntary perpetrator programmes
    • National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) local centre representative
    • Children’s support organisations
    • county or local authority Domestic Abuse Coordinator.
  • The victim does not attend the meeting, nor does the perpetrator, or the Crown Prosecution Service.
  • The aims of MARAC are:
    • to share information to increase the safety, health and well-being of victims – adults and their children
    • to determine whether the perpetrator poses a significant risk to any particular individual or to the general community
    • to construct jointly and implement together a coordinated risk management plan that provides professional support to all those at risk and that reduces the risk of harm
    • to reduce repeat victimisation
    • to improve agency accountability
    • to improve support for staff involved in high-risk DA cases.
  • Any agency can refer a case which fits the high risk criteria to MARAC. Its role is to facilitate, monitor and evaluate effective information sharing, to enable appropriate actions to be taken to increase victim and public safety. Referrals should be made by completing the DASH risk assessment form. All referrals to MARAC must relate to an adult victim. Where there are children in the family, they will be considered as part of the MARAC discussions; however, where professionals have a concern about a child in relation to DA they must follow the BSCP's Neglect Guidance.
  • Responsibility for individual actions remains with the individual agency and is not transferred to the MARAC.


  • Independent Domestic Violance Advisors (IDVAs) provide primary and essential support to the MARAC. The IDA service is available to all sectors of the community aged over 16 who are assessed to be at medium risk of DA, including those from minority ethnic groups, forced marriage, honour-based violence, those involved in sex work, same-sex relationships and male victims. Buckinghamshire has a male IDA that supports medium- and high-risk male victims.
  • If the risk assessment (DASH form) does not hit the required amount of ticks for a high-risk referral to MARAC, but is assessed as medium risk, it should be referred to the IDA.
  • Referrals to the IDA should be made using the DASH form, which should be submitted to either Aylesbury Women’s Aid or Wycombe Women’s Aid.

Domestic Abuse


Domestic Violence Protection Orders

  • Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and Domestic Abuse Protectin Norices are part of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. They provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic abuse incident.
  • With DVPOs, a perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, allowing the victim time to consider their options and get the support they need.
  • Before the scheme, there was a gap in protection, because police couldn’t charge the perpetrator for lack of evidence and so provide protection to a victim through bail conditions, and because the process of granting injunctions took time.

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)

  • The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS; also known as ‘Clare’s Law’) commenced in England and Wales in 2014. The DVDS gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner. This scheme adds a further dimension to information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic abuse is impacting on the care and welfare of the children in the family.
  • Members of the public can make an application for a disclosure, known as the ‘right to ask’. Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk or a person in a position to safeguard the victim. The scheme is for anyone in an intimate relationship, regardless of gender.
  • Partner agencies can also request disclosure is made of an offender’s past history where it is believed someone is at risk of harm. This is known as ‘right to know’.
  • If a potentially violent individual is identified as having convictions for violent offences, or information is held about their behaviour which reasonably leads the police and other agencies to believe they pose a risk of harm to their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so.

Buckinghamshire DA champion's network


Buckinghamshire DA Champions are typically front-line agency practitioners. These include employees from the police, social care, health, schools, children’s centres and housing. Professionals who are part of the Champion’s Network function as part of a virtual team to raise awareness of domestic abuse within their organisation and positively identify, safety plan and refer into DA support agencies.


All Champions receive free training (usually two days). The training includes:

  • the local picture in Buckinghamshire regarding support agencies and programmes
  • strategies for victims, families and perpetrators
  • why victims stay and how to support them
  • the different types of perpetrator
  • the different types of abuse
  • the child’s experience
  • how to assess the level of risk with the DASH (Domestic Abuse Stalking Harassment) risk assessment
  • child risk assessment matrix.

Champions will also be invited to quarterly DA Champion Network Meetings in which the usual schedule allows a guest speaker and then an hour of all Champions’ feeding back on best practice within the field. Further information is available.


Those interested in becoming Champions should visit the website and sign up using the electronic form. An email will then be sent to their manager informing them that they wish to become a Champion, and that this requires buy-in via returning a confirmation email.



DA training is provided by the BSCP for all child protection leads, designated staff and other identified personnel. DA training should be accessed by all identified child protection leads. This includes designated teachers and nominated key staff within children's/young people’s services. Within health, key staff will include maternity staff, health visitors, school nurses, emergency department staff, GPs, sexual health practitioners and children’s nurses.


Specialist DA training is also provided through Buckinghamshire Domestic Abuse Partnership.

Buckinghamshire Domestic Abuse Partnership Website Training Catalogue


Brandon, M et al. (2009) Understanding Serious Case Reviews and their Impact: A Biennial Analysis of Serious Case Reviews 2005-7

Department of Health (2009) Improving safety, reducing harm: children, young people and domestic violence. A practical toolkit for front-line practitioners

Harrykissoon SD, Vaughn IR, Wiemann CM (2002) Prevalence and patterns of intimate partner violence among adolescent mothers during the post-partum period. Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 156: 325-30.

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2010) ‘Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women Taking action and generating evidence’

Hotaling, GT and Sugarman, DB (1986) ‘An analysis of risk markers in husband to wife violence: The current state of knowledge’, Violence and Victims. 1(2): 101–124.

Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance

This page is correct as printed on Friday 12th of July 2024 09:36:34 PM please refer back to this website (http://bscb.procedures.org.uk) for updates.