Police Superintendents' Conference: Straw to rethink victims' payouts

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The Independent Online
RAPE VICTIMS and relatives of people who have been murdered may be paid more compensation under a review announced by the Home Secretary yesterday.

The initiative follows concerns over several high-profile cases, including a woman awarded pounds 10,000 after being raped by eight youths in London, and an initial award of pounds 18,500 to Josie Russell, who suffered dreadful injuries in an attack that left her sister and mother dead. She was later given pounds 79,000.

Jack Straw said yesterday that the Home Office was considering changing the tariff system to apportion more of the scheme's total pounds 200 million compensation package to families and victims of serious violent crimes, although he stressed that no new money would be made available.

If the changes go ahead, victims of less serious crimes would get lower payouts.

Under the present compensation tariff, relatives of a murdered person qualify for a maximum of pounds 10,000 each. Victims of assault can be awarded up to pounds 15,000 for the loss of a thumb, up to pounds 7,500 for a single case of rape or buggery, a maximum of pounds 1,500 for a sprained wrist and the top payment of pounds 250,000 for permanent brain damage.

Earlier this week, the parents of Louise Smith, the 18-year-old who was raped and murdered near Bristol as she walked home on Christmas Eve in 1995, were awarded pounds 5,000 each. Gill and Robert Smith, a lorry driver who has been unemployed since the murder, are appealing for further compensation for loss of earnings and stress.

Mr Smith said: "There is no `coming to terms' with what has happened. How can you `come to terms' with the rape and murder of your daughter?"

Mr Straw told the Police Superintendents' Association annual conference in Bristol that his department would examine whether victims of serious violence, particularly murder and rape, should get more money.

"[But] any change which would be justified to shift a balance towards murder victims would have to come out of the same pot," he said at a press conference. "Of course there's a case of looking at the balance of how much is allocated to murder victims and for trivial cases."

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme came into force in 1994, replacing one based on individual payouts calculated by the courts.

The previous government argued that the costs were rising and needed to be capped, although Labour opposed the move at the time.

Earlier this year the scheme was criticised after an Austrian tourist who was raped by eight youths and thrown into a canal was awarded pounds 7,500 for the first rape plus an additional pounds 2,500 for what was classed as a multiple attack.

Mr Straw also expressed his anger yesterday at the failure of some chief constables to implement efficiency savings recommended in a series of reports by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary.

He accused some chiefs of not even bothering to read the reports and he complained that money was still being wasted by forces that refused to bulk-buy or tackle high levels of sickness.

As an example, he said, at one stage individual forces were buying 20 different types of blue dye for their uniforms and using computer systems that were incompatible, so theycould not share information.

The Home Secretary said that if chief constables failed to make improvements he could, as a last resort, send in a "hit squad" overseen by the inspectorate to force change.

Chief constables are known to be privately angry at the criticism of their work.