Funding for a service that helps crime victims through their most difficult days is to be axed on Tyneside.
Three of the four Victim Support offices in the area look set to close, following a major shake-up in victims’ services, at the end of next month.
The move comes after the Government, which had provided 80% of the charity’s funding decided to devolve, decisions on victim care spending to a local level, with individual Police and Crime Commissioners determining how help is provided in their own force area.
Northumbria’s Vera Baird is so far one of just two PCCs in the country to decide not to provide funding to the existing Victim Support services, instead choosing to replace them with her own ‘in house’ victim care structure.
Some staff at the offices in Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead have been told they could lose their jobs, although it is understood they are being encouraged to apply for the new roles.
Ms Baird said:
“The Ministry of Justice has decided to fund victims’ services in a different way with the funding now being provided through Police and Crime Commissioners across the country.
“In the Northumbria Police region this new service will be independent from the force working with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and will link in with existing services and voluntary groups already working in the force area.
“It will put victims at the heart of everything that is done throughout the whole criminal justice process ensuring that they have access to support and advice when they need it.
“This new service will be available in April and discussions are continuing with victims’ service providers in the region as we work to get the best possible service for victims of crime.”
But, both staff and families who have been helped by the charity in the past fear future victims of crime will suffer.
Margaret Smith, whose 16-year-old son Mark was killed almost eight years ago, said:
“I think it’s absolutely horrendous. Who else would people turn to if Victim Support isn’t there? Closing it would be the worst thing they could do, they help a hell of a lot of people.”
Mark was stabbed to death near his Benwell home in Newcastle, in May 2007.
And in the dark days, weeks and months that followed, Victim Support became a lifeline for grieving Margaret.
“They helped me with everything,” the 54-year-old said. “It was the worst time of my life, but they were fantastic. I poured my heart out to them and they listened to me.”
Formed in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
But they also provide a shoulder to cry on, and someone to talk to away from a victim’s family, and independent of the police.
Susanne Hilton, whose son Glen Corner was stabbed to death in South Shields on his 16th birthday in 2006, said Victim Support provided an essential link between her family and the police :
“I think it’s very important that there should be a service such as Victim Support.
“They were a great help to us. They were constantly there for us, and they continued to support us for a long time.
“They were like a go-between for us and the police. So if we wanted to ask anything about things like Glen’s clothes they were there to do it for us.
“The police are there doing their jobs, but Victim Support provided a personal service for us.”
And a Victim Support employee, who asked not to be named, said the closure would mean many staff members with years of experience would no longer be working with victims.
And she fears the unique skills they have built up over a number of years could be lost forever.
“This will mean dozens and dozens of very well trained people will lose their jobs,” she said. “Victim Support staff have very specific skills. We have people who work with domestic violence victims and those that work with people affected by anti-social behaviour and this requires a variety of skills that have been built up over a long time. It’s not a job you can just walk into. We deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, who are not always easy to deal with.”
The staff member also said allowing the PCC’s office to deliver victims’ services could threaten impartiality.
“If the police are doing it, where’s the independence ?” she asked.
“And more to the point, how many victims will want to engage with the police? A lot of victims of crime are criminals themselves.”
Victim Support as a charity will continue and provide other services funded from elsewhere, said Carolyn Hodrien, regional director, who added:
“Our priority, as always, is ensuring victims across Northumbria continue to receive the help they need to cope and recover from crime. We know that crime victims really value our independence from the police. Our staff and volunteers will continue to offer information and support to victims of crime and anti-social behaviour in Northumbria as well as our specialist service for families bereaved by murder or manslaughter.”