Families bereaved by crime demand rights

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The Independent Online
RELATIVES of people killed violently launched a new self- help organisation yesterday and immediately called for changes in the law to give greater rights to people left bereaved by crime.

The organisation, called Support After Murder and Manslaughter, has been given financial backing from the Victim Support group and already has a network of 350 relatives who are available to help those whose lives are affected by murder.

David Maclean, Minister of State at the Home Office, who attended the launch, said the Government had begun to implement 11 recommendations from the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice to help victims but he admitted more needed to be done.

Many of the 80 relatives present attacked the criminal justice system for not keeping them informed, for being too willing to reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter and for not taking the views of witnesses into account.

'If the justice system does not take notice, people are going to start taking the law into their own hands,' said Dawn Bromiley, whose 21-year-old daughter was killed by a man who was on home leave from a mental institution after being found guilty of kidnapping a woman at knifepoint.

Norman Black, 44, told Mr Maclean that his girlfriend's killer had been sentenced to five years after his plea of guilty to manslaughter was accepted by the court. She had been stabbed 16 times.

'His defence puts in mitigation. Nobody was there to defend her from . . . things which made it sound as if she had asked for it. We had no rights at all. The criminal has rights, when are we going to get ours.'

Others complained of sentences as low as 30 months for manslaughter, or of killers who were released after six months' treatment in a mental hospital following a conviction for manslaughter.

Elizabeth James, whose daughter was killed by her fiance in 1986, complained of cavalier treatment by the police when she tried to gain custody of her daughter's five- month-old son. 'I was treated as a neurotic woman who lost her daughter and then lost her mind.'

Support After Murder and Manslaughter is to receive pounds 40,000 funding from Victim Support as well as further assistance from the Home Office. Mr Maclean said such organisations gave politicians a greater insight into the difficulties faced by victims.

Changes in court seating arrangements had already been made and a complete information pack for relatives was being prepared which would include guides to the criminal justice system and contact numbers for all the support agencies.