Support after Shipman: the role of Victim Support and the Witness Service - Final comments
Without doubt families were helped a great deal by a caring group of volunteers led by the Victim Support and Witness Service co-ordinators. In spite of the stress emanating from the details of the deaths, the media interest and, principally, the distress of the families, sound working practices were followed. Initially the resources available locally were used, then the financial support of the National Office. Both were crucial to the provision of help offered to families and mainly due to the high calibre of the co-ordinator and volunteers, families were helped appropriately. In line with Victim Support and Witness Service policy, no legal advice or opinion was given and, from family members' comments, the presence of an individual who is independent and supportive was invaluable. Through their work, personal emotional issues were listened to and discussed in a safe atmosphere, practical problems were addressed, and legal procedures were explained so that family members could understand what was happening.
Victim Support is still helping families of other patients suspected of being victims of Harold Shipman and their cases are far from being closed.
The following should also be noted.
- The coroner and his court officials were very happy with their contact with Victim Support. They saw the help given to families in distress as appropriate but also helpful in conducting the hearings in as sympathetic way as possible without compromising the legal aspects.
- Regarding the police, the contacts between them and Victim Support were such that co-operation and co-ordination were excellent, but the independence of Victim Support and the confidential police matters were in no way compromised.
- Crown Court personnel were sensitive to the needs of the Witness Service and the families being supported. Whilst at any one time the number of families involved in this multiple homicide case could be large, they were unfailingly courteous and did not hurry people along, even during the necessary security checks.
- At the end of the trial, the judge's final comments and the fact that all the victims were named separately were appreciated by all the workers as well as the families.
Lyn BrownJanuary 2002