“Stalking victims being failed, say watchdogs” (BBC on 5th July 2017)
“Bijan Ebrahimi: Police ‘failed’ murdered man for years.” (BBC on 5th July 2017)
There is a familiar theme here in these 2 reports that came out last week. One report was published by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the other by HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary). Both contain worrying conclusions of how victims are not being listened to and not properly protected.
This was also a message that came out of the tragic death of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca. The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded “that the police’s error in not identifying Fiona Pilkington and her children as a vulnerable family “lay at the core” of their failure to provide a cohesive and effective approach. Incidents were too often dealt with by police officers in isolation and with an unstructured approach.”
Victims being failed. It is what we are hearing from the Grenfell Tower residents. Last week we heard it about victims of stalkers – that many victims are being failed with poorly run investigations and insufficient protection given to victims. We also see how badly one vulnerable victim was treated in Bristol, with such a lack of support that he ultimately ended up losing his life as he sought to get evidence and find someone who would believe him and act to stop the anti-social behaviour he was suffering.
How many more Bijan Ebrahimis and Fiona Pilkingtons do we need to have before change is made? What would that change look like?
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 was designed to put victims first. However, in practice, much of that seems to be just in word rather than deed. Our biggest concern is that whatever powers are put in place in theory and through legislation to protect victims or give them a louder voice, in practice individual victims can still be ignored, or as in the case of Bijan Ebrahimi told to ‘Shut up’!
A victim or group of victims who are being ignored now have the ability to insist on a case review through the Community Trigger process. Yet we know of a victim of stalking who felt she was being failed by the authorities and when she activated the Community Trigger was simply told a review had happened and ‘that all processes had been followed’. However, she is still suffering and not receiving any support or protection.
The Appeal process for the Community Trigger often goes to the same agency that managed it in the first place. This is a problem but there should also be no need for genuine victims to have to jump through so many hoops. In some areas of England and Wales, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office is involved in managing Appeals. When the Government’s White Paper: Putting Victims First was written, PCCs were specifically mentioned as people to whom victims could go for help.
In practice, and in our experience, the reality is far different. Police and Crime Commissioners have no mandate to act in the area of anti-social behaviour so many do not. Even when we have asked a PCC office about an individual, we are only told that they have called the local police and been assured that all necessary support has been offered. Everything is taken at face value and no checks are done.
Without checks, how will we know who is being failed? Only when the failure has been severe and the investigation done. This is a serious problem in the whole system – not just in anti-social behaviour but across many spheres of public life. When members of the public cry out for help, what confidence can they have that their small voice will be heard when up again big organisations like the Council and the Police? The solution cannot be more red tape and requiring more of already cash-strapped public services, yet there needs to be some better way of empowering victims in an effective way.
If someone in a situation like that of Bijan Ebrahimi approached us today, we would recommend they activate the Community Trigger which has been set up for victims who feel like they are being ignored by local agencies. However, it is worth mentioning that in Bijan Ebrahimi’s case, the Community Trigger probably would not have yielded results unless there was an independent member of the panel.
If he was known to the main agencies, including the police and the Council, it is easy to see how they might skew a case review right from the outset by saying that the victim is a persistent complainant. We believe the Community Trigger (also known as ASB Case Review) would have so much more potential power if it was chaired by someone independent from the whole case, trained to critically challenge the evidence and any bias. To have that independent perspective could have shed crucial light onto the situation and made a real difference.