LAST year a total of 1,460 victims of crime across Oxfordshire were helped with coming to terms with what happened to them.
Today the charity which supported them – Victim Support – is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
The national charity has an office in London Road, Bicester, as well as witness support bases in Oxford Crown Court and Oxford Magistrates’ Court in St Aldate’s.
The charity has now helped more than 30 million victims nationwide since it started in 1974.
To recognise the landmark, a 40th anniversary conference is being held at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium for the Thames Valley division of Victim Support.
Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld, Victim Support’s homicide team volunteers, and representatives from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service will be among the speakers.
The main branches of the charity are the victim service, which supports people in the community, and the witness service, which helps victims and witnesses give evidence in court.
Retired legal executive Sheila Spencer, 81, above, from Cowley, has been a witness service volunteer based in Oxford Crown Court for 16 years.
She said: “I get so much satisfaction knowing that what we do has lessened the trauma of someone coming to court.
“The biggest change I have seen is that we have become more and more appreciated and respected over the years. There is an awareness on the part of court staff and those in the legal profession of the value we offer.”
There are 11 volunteers who live in Oxfordshire and give support to victims of crime in the county and across the Thames Valley.
Another 32 witness service volunteers are based at Oxford Crown Court and Oxford Magistrates Court.
Mrs Spencer added: “There is no-one else but us who can give victims and witnesses the support they need to make what can be a daunting experience more comfortable to them.
“It is not something you are doing every day like going to Tesco. It is the unknown.
“A lot of victims feel they are on trial themselves. You have to try to make them appreciate it is not like television, because that is where a lot of people’s pre-conceived ideas of court come from. They think they are going to be tricked by the defence barrister.”
A new short film, featuring six victims of crimes including murder and domestic violence from across the UK, will be shown at the conference today.
Victim Support chief executive Javed Khan said: “We know from speaking to millions of people over the last four decades the devastating impact crimes can have.
“We can offer help and support to those affected and would encourage anybody who has been a victim of crime to contact us.
“The people who took part in this film have shown real courage in seeking help and support after they suffered awful crimes.
“They are playing a huge part in raising awareness of Victim Support and the difference our staff and volunteers make to people’s lives, and I thank them for their help.”
The conference starts at 10am and finishes at 3.30pm.
‘We match the right people to those who need us’
Leanne Lewis, left, service delivery manager for Victim Support at its base in Bicester, with Sabine Griffiths, volunteer
As the manager of the victim service based at Victim Support’s Bicester office in London Road, Leanne Lewis runs a team of 13 volunteers.
Victims across Oxfordshire who want help from Victim Support are referred from the charity’s south east headquarters in Sussex.
Miss Lewis then matches the victim with the volunteer most suited to helping them.
Of the 13 volunteers, three are trained in supporting victims of serious crime, two work with people affected by murder, one is trained for relatives of victims of road deaths, three work with victims of sexual violence and one for domestic violence.
In January this year, 42 referrals of victims asking for help were dealt with in Bicester.
Miss Lewis said: “Some people just want one visit from the volunteer to unload and talk through what happened, but others we might support through the criminal court system to the end of a trial and beyond.
“It is so important. People say it really helps and they are glad they have someone to talk to.
“For the volunteers too, some of the details they hear can be quite harrowing so we make sure we support them too.”
Victim Support’s Bicester office launched a drop-in session in January, so every Wednesday from 10am until noon, a volunteer or staff member will be available if victims want to attend without booking an appointment.
Murder trial: ‘A relief to have someone with me’
TWO years ago Aaron Buron, above, was murdered by teenager Haydan O’Callaghan outside his own home in Rose Hill, Oxford.
O’Callaghan, of Saunders Road, Cowley, stabbed 29-year-old Mr Buron three times after the hip-hop artist tried to stop the teen from beating his girlfriend on March 31, 2012.
O’Callaghan, who was 18 at the time, was given a life sentence for the murder of Mr Buron at Oxford Crown Court in October 2012.
His mum Eden Buron, 56, above, of St Martin’s Road, Rose Hill, was helped by both the victim and witness service volunteers.
She said: “It was murder, and how it affected his two sons, and eight nieces and nephews is still with them today.
“But they did help – they showed us around court during the trial. I did feel as much at ease as was possible at a time like that.
“However at ease one tries to be, it is a very harrowing experience. It wasn’t easy.
“I was there for the whole trial, and it was nice to have someone there. I will say that. I had never been to court in all my life before and for me and my husband it was a relief to have someone there who knew what was going on.”
Mrs Buron also said Victim Support, as well as the police, visited after his death and before the trial numerous times to prepare them for what was coming next.
She added: “It will be two years at the end of this month. The crazy thing is he died two days before his birthday, so we are remembering his death as well as his birth.”
Proud to make a difference
Linda Darrell, Victim Support manager for the Thames Valley, meets the Princess Royal
I really enjoy my job, writes Linda Darrell, Victim Support’s manager for the Thames Valley, covering Oxfordshire.
No day is ever the same and when I look back on my working week each Friday, I feel that I have made a difference to people’s lives.
I am lucky enough to work for Victim Support, the independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales.
As divisional manager I am responsible for the delivery of our support services across the whole of the Thames Valley – Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire.
This includes the witness service and the victims’ service. In Oxford itself we have teams of volunteers in the Crown and Magistrates’ Court at St Aldate’s supporting witnesses who come to give evidence and their families. At our office in London Road, Bicester, we manage the victims’ service side of work for Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
This includes sending cases out to our volunteers, running a drop-in centre for victims and hosting meetings with partner agencies.
This year is a very special one for Victim Support as we celebrate our 40th anniversary. It’s an exciting time and we have been busy pulling things together for today’s conference in Oxford at the Kassam stadium, where we held the SpeakingUp4Children conference in October 2012 which was attended by our President, HRH The Princess Royal.
HOW THE VICTIM SUPPORT NETWORK HAS GROWN
- The first Victim Support scheme was set up in 1974 in Bristol by Chris Holtom, who died last year.
- The group began visiting victims of crime to offer help and in the following years more local independent Victim Support branches sprang up across the country.
- By 1978 there were 30 similar schemes across England and Wales.
- In 1981 Victim Support had 67 schemes and police referred 18,000 victims to them.
- In 1994 the Crown Court Witness Service was launched and the 20th anniversary of the first Victim Support branch in Bristol was marked by the introduction of a new ‘sun and clouds’ logo and the launch of the first Victim Support Week in February that year.
- In 2007 local branches merged to form a single charity covering England and Wales.
- In 2008 the local offices moved to London Road in Bicester, from Slade Road, Oxford.