Victims 'increasingly failed by authorities' as confidence in criminal justice system falls, research shows

Exclusive: 'It makes you think 'what is the point in ringing them?' victim tells The Independent

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
@lizziedearden
Friday 03 August 2018 22:37
Victim Support says police are increasingly failing to adhere to a code of practice meant to ensure victims' rights
Victim Support says police are increasingly failing to adhere to a code of practice meant to ensure victims' rights

The majority of victims of crime have no confidence in the justice system, as police “routinely” fall short of standard codes of practice, new research reveals.

Fifty-five per cent of those surveyed said the system failed to meet their needs, while only a quarter felt they were properly supported after reporting incidents to the police.

The findings came after crime figures showed that almost half of all criminal investigations in England and Wales are closed with no suspects identified, and the proportion ending with a charge has fallen to just 9 per cent.

Independent charity Victim Support said police failings left two in three victims completely unaware of their rights.

Chief officer Diana Fawcett said: “Our research found that victims are not always receiving the level of service that they deserve from the police and too often their rights which exist on paper are not being put into practice.

“To prevent victims from being let down, the government must act to strengthen victims’ rights and ensure that all victims have access to support services that are independent of the police.”

Research shared exclusively with The Independent found that one in five are not referred to support services, 43 per cent are not notified of developments like a perpetrator being arrested or released, 52 per cent are not offered the chance to make a victim personal statement and 54 per cent have no idea what to expect going forward.

Out of the eight entitlements provided by the police that were measured, the research found that compliance had worsened in six year-on-year, while improving in two.

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Victim Support said the lack of monitoring and enforcement for the victims’ code could be contributing to the problem, and that those failed have no clear means of redress.

Earlier this year a national inspection warned that police were taking days to respond to 999 calls because of rising crime, “overwhelming” demand and stress exerted on forces by funding cuts and the loss of around 20,000 officers since 2010.

The annual report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that victims, including vulnerable people, were getting a “delayed response” from more than a third of police forces in England and Wales.

Vulnerable people and victims of assault and other serious crimes are among those left waiting in distress, sometimes waiting days to see officers and not knowing if or when they would arrive.

Inspectors warned that if a victim’s first experience with police is not positive, they may not report crimes in the future.

One woman who interrupted an armed burglar as he tried to smash his way into her house told how her experience left her wondering “what is the point in ringing” the police.

Kerry, 46, was living alone when her house was targeted in the early hours of the morning of 30 June last year.

“Shortly after I turned off my bedroom light I started noise again and couldn’t work out what it was,” she told The Independent.

“I locked myself in the bedroom and then I heard a big crack from beneath me.

“Without even thinking I grabbed my phone and ran downstairs and there he was at the kitchen window, the crack was him pulling off the window frame with a crowbar.

“I was frozen to the spot, I didn’t even speak. He stopped what he was doing and we just started at each other. Then turned and disappeared back over the fence.”

Kerry called the police and said that by the time they arrived she was “hysterical” with fear and needed to be taken to hospital with an asthma attack triggered by the ordeal.

Forensic officers discovered a “very big knife” in an outhouse but at 5.30pm on the same day – 13 hours after the incident – she received an email saying police had closed the case.

Kerry said she was not told why the decision was taken, and that when the investigation was reopened she “eventually gave up” trying to get information from detectives.

In October, she received a call saying the perpetrator was already in prison – after being caught with a knife in another home – and that he would be prosecuted because his DNA matched the weapon left at her house.

The man was charged and had 26 months added to his sentence, but Kerry said she was left “terrified” for four months.

“He’d already been in prison for some time yet I’m sat inside my house worrying that he had come back, that was my biggest fear – I could have at least had a phone call to say I was safe,” she added.

“He absolutely terrified me, I couldn’t sleep in the house for six weeks afterwards and I’m still nervous and on edge if I hear something. Maybe I wasn’t hurt but it was very traumatising.”

The government has pledged to publish a new strategy for victims this summer, after the 2017 Conservative manifesto stated that it would “enshrine victims’ entitlements in law, making clear what level of service they should expect from the police, courts and criminal justice system”.

Assistant Chief Constable Emma Barnett, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for victims, said: “Victim care is a fundamental part of policing. Each victim has differing needs and forces are committed to ensuring that victims of crime receive the right support.

”We recognise that in some cases victims have not received the right level of support. We are working to provide a consistent quality of service and to ensure officers and staff are aware of their obligations under the victims’ code.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We are committed to giving victims of crime the support they need and will publish a victims strategy later this summer.

“We are actively engaging with victims as part of this work, which will consider how compliance with the victims’ code might be improved and how criminal justice agencies can be held to account for delivering the support to which victims are entitled.”