Crime File: The Victim's Charter
3:19pm Wednesday 18th September 2013 in News
As a new Victim’s Charter is launched by the Police and Crime Commissioner, Ian Johnston, LAURA LEA speaks to Mandy Wilmot, who works at the heart of victim services, to find out what this means for Gwent’s victims.
The new charter was launched by the PCC on 6 September, where he was joined by representatives from Gwent Police and Victim’s Support, as well as Baroness Helen Newlove, victim’s commissioner for England and Wales.
The charter outlines ten minimum standards victims can expect when they are involved in the Criminal Justice process in Gwent.
Better cohesion between police, court and further victim services is at the core of these standards. But there is already The Code of Practise for Victims of Crime which details minimum standards victims can expect.
Mandy Wilmot is the divisional manager for Victim Support in Wales and Gwent.
While the code may already exist, she said: “That’s not to say that any PCC or police service can’t build on that, so I see the charter as Gwent’s steps on building on the specifics.”
The charter is a result of both the PCC's office and the police force finding problems with the victims’ services.
Two years ago, The Victims Support Advocates compiled a report, commissioned by the former Victims Commissioner, in anticipation of the arrival of the PCC for Gwent.
The VSA report highlighted the main problems the charter has responded to, especially communication. It said: “On the whole victims wanted action to be taken quickly with better communication from agencies and regular updates. Victims want to be treated according to their own needs and the needs of their children. Victims also want to be supported by people who have specialist knowledge and understanding of their needs.”
The report recommended the PCC to co-ordinate a victims’ services network in Gwent, to identify service needs, consult with victims and advocate on their behalf. The charter is largely successful in being the first step to ensuring this.
Speaking at the charter launch, assistant chief constable at Gwent Police, Lorraine Bottomley, said: “It had been raised by both sides so it had to be an issue.”
She admitted the way police operate is not always the best suited for a victim. She explained they would simplify and streamline the process for victims so they deal with fewer officers and on their terms. Victims will also be kept up to date on the holding of personal property.
She said: “The service has become overcomplicated.”
Ms Wilmot said: “The plans all reflect that there will be more focus on the victims. I think the work they’ve done in Gwent really comes through here in the charter.”
At present, Gwent police refer 100 per cent of victims to Victim Support. From here, Victim Support then decide what specialist services are required and refer them on.
Ms Wilmot has praised the PCC’s decision to make services for victims more joined up but is concerned the charter now states the police will refer victims to the relevant victim’s services – a duty previously carried out by Victim Support.
She said: “It’s something we feel would be a backwards step. I don’t think the police are the best to refer people. We have the expertise and the best resource.”
On a national level, Victim Support has formed the Victim’s Alliance and now Mandy hopes to create a divisional alliance, toward the end of October. The Gwent Victim’s alliance will provide a stronger voice for victims and bring all organisations together – including third sector parties.
“All stakeholders can come together as one body that the PCC and police can approach,” Ms Wilmot explained.
Ms Wilmot believes the main problem is awareness. The British Crime Survey reports that in 2010/11 75 per cent of people surveyed in Gwent had not heard of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.
She said: “It’s not something people know about. It needs wider communication and promoting – that these standards are there.
“It’s about community awareness – not just once you become a victim.”
Victim Support depend on specially-trained volunteers to deliver services and despite working closely with the police and other parts of the criminal justice system, they are an independent charity.
Volunteers in Gwent are organised from community centres in Abergavenny, Ystrad Mynach and the Information Station in Newport. Volunteers include people who are retired, working part time, looking for experience or who have been victims of crime themselves and they all offer their time for free. They aim to reflect members of the community and are all ages, genders and ethnic minorities.
For more information and to see a copy of the charter, go to www.gwent.pcc.police.uk/engagement/victims/
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