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Now is the time to finally fling open wide the door to changing view on crime and consequence

July 19, 2013

article-0-0014094400000258-74_233x423“EVERY time I close my eyes I see the man who attacked me . . . Then I feel so frightened . . . I thought he was going to kill me and I don’t know why . . . I don’t want to leave the house in case he attacks me again . . . I’m scared to be home because the man could be somewhere nearby . . . I don’t know how I’m going to get on with life . . .”

They’re the words of a crime victim brutally assaulted just a few streets from his home.

And that’s the reason I brought more than 50 specialists from across Staffordshire together this week to discuss a new vision to put crime victims and witnesses FIRST.

The ground-breaking event – called ‘A Gateway To Haven’ – saw organisations who work with victims from the public and voluntary sector gather at police headquarters in Stafford yesterday.

Supporting victims and witnesses is one of four key priorities in the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s new Safer, Fairer, United Communities strategy for Staffordshire.

I have worked on reviewing and reforming existing victim services since taking up my post as deputy police and crime commissioner.

At the core of the agenda were plans, highlighted in the strategy, for a single gateway to join up the work of support organisations in an understandable way for victims.

It was really encouraging to see so many organisations come together under one roof to discuss ways we can provide the best possible service for victims and witnesses in Staffordshire.

For too long, victims have had to fit the criminal justice system rather than the system fitting victims.

As far as I was concerned we came together for one reason only – to support the victims of crime. Nothing else matters. It’s top, middle and bottom of the agenda and I’m determined to deliver on a promise I made to myself when I became the county’s crime deputy to help oversee the widest-ranging overhaul of the system’s infrastructure for the good of each and every one of our county’s dynamic, yet diversely spread, populace.

Victims want to be treated as individuals not crime numbers. They need to be able to access the right service at the right time rather than trying to battle through a myriad of contacts at different agencies to get the help they require

We need a streamlined system that avoids duplication and protects those at risk of becoming a victim or repeat victim.

The list of 36 support agencies and charities dealing with victim support in Staffordshire is a myriad of number-numbing proportions – unsustainable as the organisations pitch for funds on a yearly and bi-annual basis to maintain their back offices. My quest is for ONE back office to achieve a ‘money well spent’ return on front line delivery.

Victims find themselves having to relive their story more than once to more than one supporting agency. The VICTIM is often put through hell, sometimes on more than one occasion. They go to court but the judge has scheduled three cases for the day, hoping that at least one will be adjourned.

When they aren’t, the victim has to return – sometimes twice or three more times.

The county has been dealing with victim support in isolation, fragmented AND seemingly reliant on the Victim Support organisation itself.

Staffordshire has a vast network of organisations that directly and indirectly support victims of crime. These are mostly delivered by the voluntary sector, but there are also important statutory services.

Being a victim can be truly damaging and have a lasting impact on feelings of safety and wellbeing.

The very services that are there to support both victims and witnesses can be anything but user friendly, meaning that the experience they have of the courts and criminal justice system can be as taxing and traumatic as the original incident.

So, first and foremost THE VICTIM should be on the frontline of everything we do.

Together, we looked at ways we could join up services locally and nationally while considering current gaps in provision. We talked about creating a gateway – in a simplified and streamlined service – that ensures victims and witnesses’ needs are met.

This gateway will offer ‘one-stop’ access to services and give direction, protection and support which places victims and their families at the heart of the process.

From April next year, funding of £3.6million for victim support services in Staffordshire (out of an annual budget of £185.4 million) will, for the first time, be allocated to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner instead of directly to services.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to yesterday’s event which will shape our ongoing work to put the needs of victims and witnesses at the centre of all we do.

We mustn’t forget that this has been a unique occasion where the many and varied caring individuals and agencies involved in the county’s vital Victim Support network have come together as one – to listen and finally fling open wide the door to a changing landscape on crime and consequence.

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