Vulnerable `excluded' from plan to let victims share pain

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Indy Politics
The victims of some crimes will be given the chance to make a statement explaining how the experience has affected their lives, the Home Office announced yesterday. But the scheme has come under attack for failing to address many of the most serious offences, including murder, manslaughter, domestic violence, and most assaults.

Under the initiative, the statements will be taken into account by police, prosecutors and judges when making key decisions, although victims will not be given any new powers under the justice system.

Another development is the establishment of so-called "one-stop shops" in which every victim will be given the name of a specific police crime desk which will provide information on the progress of a case, including details on whether charges are dropped or reduced and the date of the trial.

But yesterday's announcement, by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, of the updated Victims' Charter was marred by criticism from the charity most closely responsible for helping people who have suffered from crime.

Victim Support is concerned that many serious crimes will not be included in the year-long pilot projects which begin in August and operate in the Metropolitan, Merseyside, Lanca- shire, Hampshire, Sussex and Bedfordshire police areas.

Under the scheme, only victims of certain crimes will be asked if they wish to give statements and to receive further information about their case. Many less serious offences will be excluded because they are deemed too numerous. These include stalking, racial harassment, domestic violence, less serious assaults, theft and criminal damage under pounds 5,000.

In murder and manslaughter cases it is understood that the judiciary and lawyers are opposed to statements being provided by victim's families because they may be considered part of the evidence and challenged in court. Parents will also be barred from making statements on behalf of their children for similar reasons.

Among crimes that will be included are domestic burglary, grievous bodily harm, robbery, serious sexual assault, and racially motivated offences.

Helen Reeves, director of Victim Support, said: "We are very concerned that some of the most vulnerable victims are being excluded from these plans to improve the information they receive and the opportunity to provide details about how crime has affected them. We believe no victim should be excluded."

Nevertheless, Mr Howard predicted that the charter would form "a major contribution towards improving the treatment of victims". He said the new statements would help inform all the agencies involved in the criminal justice system.

Today, the Home Office will unveil a White Paper, called On the Record, which contains proposals for a new vetting agency to check the criminal records of people applying to carry out voluntary and paid work which involves access to children.