A service set up to support families affected by murder or manslaughter has been expanded to include those who have witnessed a homicide or major criminal incident
“We set up the service in 2010 and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. Expanding it to include support for direct eyewitnesses to homicide or a major criminal incident where a person is killed, alongside enhanced support for children and young people, is a brilliant step. These changes will enable us to deliver the best possible service for victims and ensure everyone impacted by homicide gets the help they need.” Ellen Milazzo, head of the National Homicide Service
People who have witnessed an event such as a homicide or a terrorist attack will now receive better practical and psychological support, the government has said.
The Homicide Service, which was introduced in 2010, provides support to families who have been bereaved through murder or manslaughter. Delivered by the charity Victim Support on behalf of the government, it offers both emotional support, such as trauma and bereavement counselling, and practical support in matters such as navigating the criminal justice system.
Following a successful pilot in London, the service is being expanded from the beginning of this month to provide support to anyone who has directly witnessed a homicide or major criminal incident in England and Wales – approximately 1,200 more people. The expansion will be backed by approximately £600,000 in funding, on top of the £4.6 million previously allocated to the Homicide Service.
As examples of those who might be included in the expanded service, the Ministry of Justice cited a pupil in the class of a teacher who has been killed or a member of a place of worship which loses a religious leader. It would also include people affected by tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire or the Manchester Arena bombing.
Alex Chalk KC, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, said: “For the first time ever the Homicide Service will provide support to children and young people in the community after a major incident or local murder that impacts them directly such as a teacher, pupil or religious leader.
“This will ensure the most vulnerable in society can receive professional help as quickly as possible to cope with traumatic events that could adversely impact their mental health.”
Figures published by the service show that 80% of bereaved family members who have accessed support through the Homicide Service have reported a better outlook on life, while 60% said it improved their health and sleep.
Ellen Milazzo, head of the National Homicide Service at Victim Support, said the service provided “vital support” to people whose relatives had been killed through murder or manslaughter. She added: “We set up the service in 2010 and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. Expanding it to include support for direct eyewitnesses to homicide or a major criminal incident where a person is killed, alongside enhanced support for children and young people, is a brilliant step. These changes will enable us to deliver the best possible service for victims and ensure everyone impacted by homicide gets the help they need.”
Justice minister Edward Argar said the decision to expand the service was part of a wider plan to help families of victims in incidents such as terrorist attacks or other mass fatalities: “The enhanced service will work alongside other government measures to help the victims and bereaved of major incidents. In March the government committed to creating an Independent Public Advocate (IPA) as part of the Victims and Prisoners Bill. This will work on behalf of families and provide dedicated support in the aftermath of major incidents like Hillsborough to guide them from as close to the incident as possible to the conclusion of any inquiry and ensure they get access to all available support services.”
Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, criticised the government for not doing more to support victims of major incidents: “Labour stands unequivocally with the families and survivors of Hillsborough, Grenfell and Manchester. We must do everything within our power to prevent tragedies like this ever happening again.
“Victims have repeatedly called for the Hillsborough Law, to ensure that victims of major tragedies get the same legal representation as the authorities that failed them. The government has failed to provide this parity, only Labour will deliver it.”
Since the Homicide Service was created in 2010, it has provided valuable support to relatives of murder and manslaughter victims. Until now, however, eye witnesses have been overlooked – yet the psychological impact of witnessing a traumatic event such as a murder or terrorist attack can be profound and longlasting. Eye witnesses may also need practical help if they are required to testify before an enquiry. We therefore welcome the government’s decision to expand the service’s support to witnesses as well as families.