23/10/2003

Relocation strategy set to tackle witness intimidation

Intimidated and vulnerable witnesses will have the option of being moved to safety more swiftly following the launch of a national scheme tomorrow.

The Witness Mobility Scheme will be unveiled at London's City Hall at a conference on witness intimidation, hosted by Baroness Scotland, the Minister for Criminal Justice and Victims, and Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London.

With representatives from the Home Office, Metropolitan Police, London boroughs and Housing Associations, the conference aims to raise awareness about the role housing could play in tackling witness intimidation and encourage the capital's agencies to sign up to a protocol which will deliver a streamlined approach to relocating intimidated witnesses.

At least 10% of crimes reported to the police result in witnesses being intimidated, and many crimes go unreported because of the fear of intimidation, the government say.

A key problem identified in the recent Home Office 'Tackling Witness Intimidation - an outline strategy' is that witnesses living near to a suspect will not agree to give evidence in court if they know they have to remain in the same neighbourhood.

A successful relocation can help to reduce the fear and distress experienced by intimidated witnesses and can have a large impact on witnesses agreeing to testify, according to the Home Office.

The police relocate around 3,000 intimidated witness households each year, but this is "often done on an uncoordinated, case by case basis".

The scheme launched tomorrow aims to streamline the approach by: establishing a national co-ordinator to act as a link between those who put forward intimidated witnesses for fast track moves and those who can re-house them elsewhere. Improved links between social landlords, local authorities and police forces, and the facilitating of access to support services during the relocation process, will also be rolled out.

The scheme will be going live from 1 November 2003 and is open to all police forces and social landlords nationally. It will cover all types of crime where witnesses are intimidated but will be particularly targeted at relocating witnesses areas such as: gun crime; serious and organised crime; human and drug trafficking; child and sexual abuse; racially motivated and hate crimes. It may also be of use in cases of domestic violence and anti social behaviour.

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, said: "The protocol is an important step towards helping witnesses who are vulnerable, to make a stand against criminals, particularly in their community.

"Witnesses need to feel empowered and supported before they give evidence in court as too many cases collapse because witnesses fear reprisals. Providing safe housing reduces the chance of cases disintegrating."

(gmcg)

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15 May 2003
Guidelines to tackle witness intimidation published
The government has published new guidelines today on how to more effectively tackle the problem of witness intimidation. It is hoped that the recommendations will see improved assessment of the risk of intimidation and a better system of fasttrack re-housing for victims and witnesses who may need to move locations at short notice.