'Safe rooms' instead of cash for crime victims

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The Independent Online

People repeatedly terrorised by intruders could have "safe rooms" fitted in their homes at taxpayers' expense in an overhaul of the help given to the victims of crime.

At least 20,000 people a year will lose cash payouts and instead be offered practical assistance to recover from the experience. Victims of violent attacks could be offered cosmetic surgery, dental treatment or therapy, including counselling for post-traumatic stress, or issued with personal attack alarms.

Householders who are burgled could be given help in fitting alarms and more robust locks. In the most serious cases, "safe rooms" with reinforced walls and ultra-secure locks could be installed in victims' homes. Fiona Mactaggart, the Home Office minister, said the rooms could be built if "someone was being a repeat victim of violent crime".

Under the Home Office proposals, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority would be reformed to ensure more of its £200m annual budget was targeted on the most seriously injured. The current £500,000 cap on compensation, heavily criticised in the wake of the London bombings in July which killed 52 commuters, will be swept away. But the new higher payments are unlikely to be introduced until 2007 - and will not be paid retroactively.

Ms Mactaggart said more than half of the 40,000 people who currently get compensation cheques from the scheme each year will in future be given practical help. With only half of compensation orders handed out by the courts being paid, she said ministers were determined to make more criminals pay out to their victims. She said: "We need to ensure that victims receive the support that they need when they need it."

It was also taking too long to get the money to victims, with average pay-out times being 39 weeks, she added.

The Home Office is also considering ending payments to people injured by violent crime at work, and to police and other public servants injured on duty. "We, as a government, are prepared to consider the possibility of public sector employers taking the responsibility of compensating their employees," said a Home Office consultation paper published yesterday.

Dame Helen Reeves, the chief executive of Victim Support, said: "We believe that even a small payment of state compensation is an important gesture of recognition and solidarity for the distress and suffering caused by a violent crime.

"We welcome the wish to speed up and simplify the compensation system, but in an ideal world there would be well-resourced services alongside an effective and equally well-resourced compensation system."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The Government talks a lot about placing victims at the heart of our justice system. But these reforms could mean many victims receive no compensation at all.

"It is to be welcomed that the upper limit on awards for criminal injuries is to be removed. But it is still vital that victims of less serious crimes receive compensation and proper recognition."