New support offered to witnesses of violent crime
Those who witness serious acts of violence are to receive access to the same specialist support services as victims of the crime itself under new proposals set out by Justice Secretary David Gauke as part of the Prime Minister’s week-long summit on violent crime.
The proposals have been put forward in response to the mounting evidence that being a witness to acts of serious violence, or growing up surrounded by violence, can lead to severe psychological trauma, acts of retribution and more violence.
Under the plans, witnesses to such attacks will be able to access the specialist services provided by the National Homicide Service, which previously were open only to bereaved family members. These include emotional support, legal advice and funding for court travel costs. The pilot scheme will begin in London immediately and assessed before a wider roll-out is considered.
Specialist training will be provided for staff at youth offender institutions to spot signs of past abuse, exploitation or serious violence experienced by the youths in custody and help direct them to support services.
The proposals also include a review of the Victims’ Code, which sets out what services victims are entitled to receive, to make it clearer what support witnesses of serious violent crime can access.
Mr Gauke said: “Serious violence devastates families and communities, however they encounter it, and can fuel a continued cycle of brutal offending if the consequences are not fully addressed.
“By improving the treatment of witnesses, through enhanced support from the National Homicide Service and more proactive interventions with vulnerable young people, all those affected by serious violence can have confidence that the justice system will stand by them and ensure criminals are brought to justice.
“We can only defeat this violence if we understand its root causes, and I am confident these new approaches across government can deliver for victims and better protect the public.”
The calls for greater support for witnesses follow recent attacks, such as the murder of 23-year-old Glendon Spence, who was fatally stabbed at a youth club in Brixton, South London, in an act witnessed by dozens of young children.
Diana Fawcett, chief officer at the independent charity Victim Support, said: “As well as the devastating toll that murder and manslaughter can take on the victim’s loved ones, those who witness these tragedies can be left traumatised and in need of support.
“Victim Support currently provides specialist government-funded support to bereaved family members and we are pleased that this will be broadened in London to include anyone who goes through the trauma of witnessing a homicide.”