West Mercia Police investigated hundreds of allegations of coercive control in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, 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 West Mercia Police logged 576 allegations of coercive or controlling behaviour during 2020-21.

That was up from 546 the year before – and different figures suggest most cases will never reach a courtroom.

Of the 501 cases closed by West Mercia Police during 2020-21, 91% were abandoned due to difficulties gathering evidence while just 28 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.

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.

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.

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.