CRIME FILE: Victim Support celebrates its 40th anniversary

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CRIME FILE: Victim Support celebrates its 40th anniversary

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First published in News

MUCH of the attention paid to crime is based on what offenders get as punishment, if the prison sentence is too lenient or too harsh, whether or not prisoners should have the vote or whether they should have a TV or other mod cons in their cell.

Now more time is being given to those people affected by that crime.

Victim Support, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is one group which provides better support for victims after the trauma of being involved in crime and on some occasions needing to go to court.

As part of the Gwent branch of Victim Support, a service delivery manager works with an assistant and a partnership worker to manage volunteers who go out to help people.

Victim Support’s divisional manager for Wales, Mandy Wilmot, said: “We have a victim referral unit that is based in Cardiff and on a daily basis we have the referrals from the police. So we have an electronic file come through to email. So that’s all the crimes that have been committed in the last 24 hours. The victim care unit will then speak with the victims.

“For example a victim in Gwent who would like emotional and practical help – that information will then be given to the manager in Gwent who will allocate a volunteer to it.

The charity has about 90 per cent of all the crime that happens in Wales every day referred to them.

All those people will be contacted by telephone within 24 hours of their referral but the service can also send emails and texts for what Ms Wilmot said is “a lighter touch option” for some.

More than 400 victims of crime were supported across Gwent in 2013 and 7,700 witnesses received support in courts in the region.

There are 22 Victim Support volunteers and 50 Witness Service volunteers. They are based in Newport crown and magistrates’ courts and in Caerphilly, Cwmbran and Abergavenny magistrates.

Suzanne Bocoum, the overall manager of the service in Gwent, is based at the Information Station in Newport. Other assistants are based in Caerphilly and Abergavenny.

And there is a division between those who help with community service and those who attend courts and help with victims there.

Volunteers tend to do one or two days at the court each week and stay there all day.

Across the UK the charity contacts about 200,000 people who give evidence in court. It has said an estimated 55,000 people have volunteered for it for over 40 years and that they have helped at least 30 million victims of crime.

But it is only relatively recently that the organisation took the form it has.

Initially Victim Support was based in individual county schemes. It was only brought together as a national group in 2007.

Yet it was different in Wales. The country was one of the first Victim Support groups to streamline their services and provide them to a larger geographical area.

Ms Wilmot said: “They said we have we got these county schemes, duplicating extra costs because it was different people doing the same job.”

Ian Johnston, Gwent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has lent his support to Victim Support since he was elected in October 2012.

He said: “The organisation has helped countless victims and witnesses of crime here in Gwent in what are often very distressing and challenging circumstances. A special mention needs to go out to all the dedicated volunteers who give up their own spare time to provide this invaluable service to people who really need their support.

“Victim Support was instrumental in helping us to design our Victim’s Charter which was launched last year and ensures a victim-centred focus to the services being delivered by Gwent Police and our other partners. Protecting victims and improving the way services are delivered to victims of crime is at the heart of everything we do.”

While it undoubtedly helps people, critics say it could still do more.

One problem the charity faces is awareness of what victims can get to help them. In the 2010/11 British Crime Survey, 75 per cent of people in Gwent said they had not heard of the Code of Practice for victims of crime, which lists what victims can be expected to receive.

And it is hoped the Victim’s Charter, launched last September by Mr Johnston, will enhance what victims can expect back from the police. It is hoped it will maintain quality and increase knowledge.

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