Meeting minutes: Ministry of Justice Victims and Witnesses Unit

8 September 2011


Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake (JT)
Richard Mason, Deputy Director, Victims and Witnesses, Ministry of Justice (RM)
Alpa Panchal, Victims and Witnesses (AP)

JT provided a summary of Brake’s support services for bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims, which are part-funded by the MoJ:
- Brake’s literature, which offers practical and procedural information as well as emotional comfort. It includes packs for families bereaved by road death handed to families by police immediately following all fatal crashes (fully funded by MoJ), plus a range of specialist literature, including books for bereaved children and serious injury victims (not MoJ funded);
- Brake’s helpline, part-funded by MoJ, which provides practical and procedural information, ‘listening-ear’ emotional support, advocacy, phone contact with other victims, referral to services provided by others (such as peer support sessions), and which can deploy locally operating support workers (not employed by Brake but who sign our code of conduct)
- Brake’s professional services sharing best practice, which includes seminars on child bereavement and seminars and training for traffic FLOs.

JT explained how Brake’s helpline is being significantly developed using MoJ funding, in terms of capacity and the range and quality of support it provides. Brake is working with ACPO to encourage police FLOs to refer to the helpline, aiming to achieve a situation where all FLOs explain the helpline and the support it provides at the same time as providing the literature – so all bereaved crash victims are automatically offered this support.

JT explained Brake is keen to hear the results of the evaluation currently underway of Victim Support’s Homicide Service, including its success in benefitting victims and costs per bereaved family. Brake notes that Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey’s report recommends that victims of culpable road death receive support that is on a par with the Homicide Service, i.e. face-to-face, professionally provided support, funded by government. Brake is therefore keen to apply lessons from the Homicide Service to its work considering how the needs of bereaved road crash victims may be comprehensively met in the future.

RM confirmed that the Homicide Service evaluation is likely to be published in November.

JT stated that Brake wholeheartedly welcomed Louise Casey’s recommendation that the gap in support for culpable road death victims be filled, and recognition that these victims suffer similarly to homicide victims.

JT outlined the difficulties created for support providers by the distinction between culpable and non-culpable road death victims, and the fact that only support for the former group can be funded by the MoJ. JT pointed out that all road death victims are considered victims of culpable road death at the start of their bereavement (since all fatal road crashes are followed by police investigation, with a presumption that a crime has occurred until shown otherwise). Although in many cases there will be a criminal prosecution (about 500 of which are successful each year), there will be many more cases (number unknown) where criminal activity has occurred yet no criminal prosecution will take place due to the person who has committed the crime being killed as a result. In other cases, where no criminal activity has occurred, it remains the case that the family will suffer terribly due to a sudden, violent, man-made death, in these cases resulting from a failure of government in providing a safe road network. Brake therefore believes that all bereaved and seriously injured road crash victims should be able to access government-funded support. But currently these latter two groups (where a crime was committed by the person killed, and where no crime was committed) are not catered for in government funding, meaning support providers could be put in a position of having to turn away victims at the point where it is established no criminal proceedings will take place – regardless of their extreme distress and support needs. Brake believes this must be addressed in the forthcoming victims strategy.

RM confirmed that there will be a full consultation on the new victims strategy towards the end of this year.

JT explained that Brake continues to be unable to establish the extent to which Victim Support is engaged in supporting road crash victims.

JT queried how the extra £500k funding for support for victims of crime (announced by Ken Clarke in July) is being allocated. AP explained that most if not all of this funding is being allocated to supporting homicide victims, including appointing five new case workers.

JT outlined some key areas of support work in relation to road crash victims that would benefit from government funding, should any be available. This includes Brake’s work in supporting bereaved children, which includes a highly acclaimed and thoroughly researched book for children and their carers. It would also be beneficial to commission research into the needs of bereaved road crash victims and how these are best met. This would be invaluable in helping us to understand how we can best (and most cost-effectively) plug the support gap. 

Tags: ministry of justice emotional support support