Evaluation of the Street Crime Initiative: supporting victims and witnesses of street crime: a joined-up approach

3. Victim Support and Witness Service providers


3.1 Victim Support service providers

Surveys were sent out to Victim Support Area and borough managers. Local co-ordinators within the Area structure completed the survey where they had greater knowledge and involvement in setting up the 'premium service'. The total number of completed surveys returned was 29. The sample is small; therefore any reference to the number of specific responses is given as the actual number and not as a percentage.


3.2 Working with other agencies

The police

In the majority of cases the police 'always' (six 'always' or 11 'almost always') provided victims' details8 to Victim Support. Only two service providers reported that the police 'never' or 'almost never' gave details. Despite this low figure, it is worrying that the police are not supporting some local services in relation to referrals. Failure to supply victims' details makes early engagement impossible. And unless the victim contacts Victim Support personally, they may not be aware of, or receive, the support that is available to them.

Other agencies

When asked about their working relationship with other agencies and the extent to which it enhanced their ability to provide support to victims, service providers' experience was mixed. For example, more service providers found their engagement with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (six 'always', seven 'almost always') to be more frequent and reliable than with social services (seven 'never', 12 'almost never') or their local authority (three 'never', ten 'almost never').

Overall

Service providers' opinions were mixed when asked whether they thought that the SCI had encouraged and facilitated a joined-up working approach between agencies. Thirteen felt that the relationship was 'good' (one 'very good', 12 'fairly good') and eight felt it was 'poor' (five 'fairly poor', three 'very poor'). This suggests that the experience of agencies working together to promote the interests of victims and witnesses varies greatly from place to place. Some service providers feel that their work is restricted, as decisions or agreements they have made with other managers about data protection have not been effectively communicated within the agency. They feel that work needs to be done to educate other agencies about the important role Victim Support plays in delivering services, as this is not always fully understood. The emphasis placed on increasing conviction rates by other agencies was at the expense of developing and discussing victims' and witnesses' needs.

'The police still appear to want to take control. There is too much emphasis on conviction rather than victims' and witnesses' needs, resulting in unproductive meetings.'
Victim Support service provider


3.3 Implementing the service

Over half of the service providers who responded found the 'premium service' 'easy' (one 'very easy', nine 'fairly easy') to implement following a successful funding application. Despite this, there were several barriers which had to be overcome in order for projects to be put into practice:

'The process was rushed and appeared reactive. More time needed to be given to researching local issues and needs to enable project planning.'

Victim Support service provider


3.4 Provision to victims

Types of contact and emotional support

The majority of service providers sent a leaflet relevant to the crime and a letter explaining and offering our services as the initial form of contact. Further contact with victims was offered according to individual need.

Contact by 'phone is either made as the first method of contact or following a letter. Of those who responded, 17 always made 'phone contact (four 'always', 13 'almost always') and nine 'sometimes'. No service providers reported 'never' using the 'phone as a contact method. A number of projects ensured initial contact by 'phone (if possible) to explain the service available to victims. The extra funding from the SCI enabled a number of projects to focus on early personal contact with victims, many on the same day as details from the police were received.

The trauma and distress caused by being a victim of crime will vary according to the individual. Sometimes, talking about the experience over the 'phone with a trained volunteer is enough. Other victims of crime prefer to speak to a volunteer face-to-face, either in their home or by visiting the Victim Support office. The responses by service providers reflect this as eight 'always' (three 'always', five 'almost always') undertook home visits and 18 'sometimes'. All of those who responded to this question provided home visits.

Ongoing contact is provided when requested by the victim. This may occur some time after the initial contact, for example during the days after giving evidence in court.

Practical support and information

As well as providing emotional support, Victim Support also gives practical advice and information.

Twelve service providers 'always' (five 'always' and seven 'almost always') supplied information about crime prevention and how to keep safe, 11 'sometimes' and only 1 'never'.

Usually a victim will want to be kept up-to-date about the status of the crime. The majority of service providers 'always' (three 'always', 13 'almost always') ensured that volunteers contacted the police officer dealing with the case on behalf of the victim and 11 'sometimes'. All Victim Support services 'always' or 'sometimes' contacted the police to obtain information. The victim may not always request this type of support and we can assume that contact will be made with the police if the victim has requested it.

An aim of the SCI was to promote a seamless service between Victim Support and the Witness Service. Where a case reaches court and requires the victim to give evidence9, Victim Support will provide details of the Witness Service. This includes a leaflet that goes into details of what to expect. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) should tell the Witness Service in advance, through the list of witnesses attending court (LWAC), who is going to be attending court to give evidence. The amount of time between the LWAC and the date of the trial can however vary. It is important that victims are aware of the service that exists to support them during the trial, as the thought of giving evidence is often very traumatic. This can be further compounded if the victim knows the defendant. The majority of service providers 'always' (eight 'always', eight 'almost always') offer information about the Witness Service and ten sometimes. All Victim Support services 'always' or 'sometimes' provided information about the Witness Service10.

Victims were also given other forms of practical support: information and assistance with a Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority claim; accompanying them to ID parades at police stations; and providing transport or travel facilities. This last service is not recommended by the National Office as it can put volunteers in a vulnerable position.


3.5 Localised provision

It is important for Victim Support Areas and London boroughs to develop their services to victims and witnesses in response to local need. The SCI is flexible in that, while having overarching aims that have been formalised in a set of minimum standards, it expects and encourages local variations in the type of service provided to ensure that practice is targeted at identified local need.

A number of service providers employed street crime co-ordinators or caseworkers to oversee the project, covering both Victim Support and the Witness Service. Examples are Victim Support Greater Manchester and Victim Support Islington, both of which proved successful, facilitating the smooth implementation of the project.

In the London Borough of Wandsworth, the majority of victims were aged between 10 and 19 and resources were subsequently targeted at this age group, including the employment of a youth worker. The project has letters and leaflets designed specifically for young people. It has forged links with other voluntary and community organisations together with the local authority and schools.

In Preston, a caseworker was employed to undertake a local survey of victims to gain an understanding of their needs and to focus services.

Victim Support West Midlands responded to the demand highlighted by local community services for crime prevention advice and personal safety devices. Where requested, local services provided personal alarms and information packs to victims.

As well as offering emotional support in the aftermath of the offence, Victim Support Southwark provided a lock fitting service to victims who had their house keys stolen. This was intended to prevent further victimisation, if details of the victim's address had been in the property stolen, and also to help the victim feel safer. A dedicated caseworker worked directly with the police to ensure that victims were kept up-to-date with any developments in their case and to maintain longer term contact if required.

A close working relationship was developed between the police and Victim Support West Yorkshire (Bradford and Leeds), where the police distributed customised street crime leaflets promoting the services of Victim Support.


3.6 Barriers to service delivery

Service providers were asked whether there were any specific barriers to implementing their service to victims:

'We were overwhelmed by the need to provide face-to-face contact with a lack of resources to do so.'

Victim Support service provider


3.7 Witness Service providers

Surveys were sent out to Victim Support Area and borough managers. These were then distributed to Witness Service co-ordinators for completion. The total number of completed surveys returned was 47. For consistency, we have quoted the actual number of responses to each question, not the percentage.


3.8 Working with other criminal justice agencies

Witness referrals

Service providers were asked about their experience, since the SCI was implemented, of working with agencies across the criminal justice system. This includes the police, court staff, judges, magistrates, defence teams and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The main focus however was on their relationship with the police and the CPS.

The CPS is the main provider of witnesses' details to the Witness Service in the form of a list of witnesses attending court (LWAC). The majority of service providers found the CPS 'always' (six 'always', 23 'almost always') supplied witnesses' details11. Despite this high number, eight 'never' (four 'almost never', four 'never') and eight 'only sometimes' received details of witnesses due to attend court. This becomes problematic as witnesses will not have the opportunity to receive the same level of service pre-trial as those who have been notified to the Witness Service in advance. Although they will come into contact with the Witness Service on the day of the trial and be offered court familiarisation and support before, during and after the trial, this comes late in the process and may not provide sufficient opportunity to discuss anxieties.

In a limited number of cases, nine out of 42, the police 'always' (three 'always', six 'almost always') provide witnesses' details, although this is not a formalised procedure.

Information supply

A witness may have specific concerns about attending court, for example: the defendant may be known to them; they may have specific health needs; they may have a disability or impairment that requires appropriate measures; or they may be extremely anxious about the whole process. In such instances it is important that the Witness Service is made aware of any potential issues, and it is generally the police who are relied upon for this. Only one service provider reported 'always' being informed of witnesses' concerns by the police, nine 'almost always' and 15 'sometimes'. Although no one was 'never' informed, 15 were 'almost never' provided with this information, which is a matter for concern. In such circumstances undue pressure is placed on the Witness Service and they may find it difficult to provide the necessary intensive support a witness needs. This may affect whether or not a witness is in the right frame of mind to deliver their best evidence in court.

Working together

Service providers were asked their opinion as to whether they thought agencies were working more effectively together to promote the needs of victims and witnesses. Of the 42 service providers who responded to this question, 29 (14 'very good', 15 'fairly good') felt that overall agencies were working more effectively together since the start of the SCI. Although this is a positive move forward, the experience of nine providers was that the relationship was 'poor' (seven 'fairly poor', two 'very poor').

'We have built excellent relationships with the courts, CPS and police. There are better facilities for witnesses, and reluctant witnesses are now attending trials because of the enhanced support they receive'.

Witness Service provider

Barriers to working together

Witness Service providers cited very similar reasons for the lack of effective working relationships between criminal justice agencies. These included:

'Data protection decisions made by managers are not filtering down to service providers. Criminal justice agencies need to be educated about the role of the Witness Service.'

Witness Service provider


3.9 Implementing the service

When asked how easy it was to implement the 'premium service', 21 of the 33 who responded found it 'easy' (two 'very easy', 19 'fairly easy') to implement and eight 'difficult' (one 'very difficult', seven 'fairly difficult'). The majority of service providers experienced several barriers that had to be overcome in order for projects to be put into practice. These include:


3.10 Services and facilities in court

There are a number of different facilities that can be offered to witnesses at the court, such as separate waiting areas for defence and prosecution witnesses. These measures generally rely on the court itself, with the Witness Service having little control over them.

Service or facility at court Provided: yes Provided: no
Separate and secure waiting area for prosecution witnesses 46 1
Separate and secure waiting areas for defence witnesses 34 13
Separate entrance/exit for witnesses 40 7
Separate catering facilities (or suitable provision) for witnesses 33 14
Separate waiting areas for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses (VIWs) 43 4
Separate entrance for VIWs 37 10
Video links for VIWs 29 18
Screens or curtains for VIWs 42 5
Courtrooms set aside to process cases quickly 12 34
(Base 4712)

Other facilities

Witness Service providers reported the following additional services in the courts they serve:


3.11 Witness Service provision

Types of contact and support

Pre-trial

Contact with witnesses before the trial date allows for the offer of a pre-trial visit and for the witness to discuss their concerns with a volunteer. Providers are reliant on receiving witnesses' details from either the CPS or the police before the trial. Seventeen reported 'always' being able to do so (nine 'always', eight 'almost always') and 23 'sometimes'. A limited number were 'never' (one 'never', four 'almost never') able to contact witnesses before the trial. This is due to referrals to the Witness Service not being made in time. Although the Witness Service tries to offer witnesses, whom they come into contact with on the day of the trial, the chance to see the court before proceedings begin and support before, during and after the trial, this does not leave enough time for witnesses' fears to be addressed fully.

Pre-trial familiarisation visits are offered to all witnesses13 before the day of the trial. The majority of service providers 'always' (19 'always', six 'almost always') and a further 20 'sometimes' undertook court familiarisation visits. Those who responded 'sometimes' include instances where the witness declined the offer, or details were not known before the trial started. All service providers offered pre-trial visits provided they received witnesses' details. When a witness is particularly worried about giving evidence a volunteer may visit them at home14. 14 out of the 42 providers who responded to this question reported 'sometimes' undertaking home visits. A witness who is anxious before a trial starts may still be in contact with their Victim Support volunteer.

Contact on the day of the trial

Asked whether they make contact with those witnesses who had not been referred before the day of the trial, 43 out of 45 responded 'always' (37 'always', six 'almost always') and two 'sometimes'. There were no instances when contact was never made. This highlights how much importance the Witness Service places on offering the service to all witnesses and how successful it has been in doing so.

Support on the day of the trial

A variety of services are available to witnesses on the day of the trial. These include:

Support after the trial

After the trial, the Witness Service will talk through the experience with the witness and answer any further questions they may have. Although it is not the responsibility of the Witness Service, 25 providers 'always' (23 'always', two 'almost always') and 17 'sometimes' contacted the witness to inform them of the trial outcome.

Where a witness has been distressed during the trial the Witness Service will refer them back to Victim Support or another relevant agency for further support.

Barriers to service delivery

Service providers were asked whether there were any specific barriers to carrying out particular parts of their service to victims. The main barriers are set out below:

'Police can be insensitive with reluctant witnesses and fail to take action on reports of intimidation.''The layout of court reception area means that there is not a desk in an appropriate place; therefore witnesses are not always directed to the Witness Service and we have to look for them.' 'The Witness Service is not allowed in the TV link room.'

Witness Service providers








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