Tea and sympathy 'not enough'

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The Independent Online
ANN VIRGIN, whose partner was clubbed by a man wielding an iron bar, is beyond the 'tea and sympathy' approach to comforting the relatives of murder and manslaughter victims.

She is looking for more positive help from Support After Murder and Manslaughter and is sceptical of the benefit of merely being put in touch with families in similar circumstances.

'Of course there are times when you need someone to talk to. But we need the Home Office to accept that they don't offer enough,' she said. 'Self-help can just mean sitting in groups to have tea and sympathy.'

The 22 months since Martin Bacon, Ms Virgin's partner for 12 years, was the victim of a random and unprovoked attack outside an east London pub has been a nightmare. Mr Bacon was discharged from hospital but later died at home from a brain haemorrhage.

Ms Bacon, who has not worked since the attack and was sacked after five months' sick leave, says she has been living in 'a twilight world'.

Police, for whom the family has little but praise, arrested a 23-year-old man within two months of the attack.

However, the family was unable to bury the body for four months in case the defence needed it as evidence. The trial took place at the Old Bailey last November.

The fact that Mr Bacon died two weeks after the attack allowed the medical evidence to be challenged and the defendant was eventually charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent. He was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years' jail. He has lodged an appeal against the conviction.

'Nobody seems to be working on our side and everything is out of balance. The criminal has all the rights and we have nothing. We don't exist in the legal system,' Ms Virgin said.

Ms Virgin, who with Joan Bacon, Martin's mother, formed Justice for Victims to campaign for the families of murder victims, wants reform of the judicial process to guarantee relatives the right to be informed of all criminal proceedings and the right to legal representation and legal aid.

(Photograph omitted)