Get me to the court on time! Witness care team key to crime convictions
Last year we secured more than 16,000 new prosecutions for everything from traffic offences, thefts and burglary to complex frauds, sex crimes and murder.
Every charge is a success for our detectives and investigators: it means they’ve gathered enough compelling evidence to take suspects to court.
But the prospect of a conviction - and bringing offenders to justice - lies largely with a little known police team which works behind the scenes to build relationships with witnesses and victims.
“Keeping witnesses and victims on board throughout what can be prolonged cases is vital," said Chief Superintendent Mat Shaer, who heads up West Midlands Police’s Criminal Justice Department.
“It can be many months or even a year between a case being charged and a trial starting. If any witnesses or victims lose interest during that time, or move and cannot be traced, it’s likely to severely weaken the prosecution case. And can lead to offenders getting off."
Members of the Witness Care Unit are determined that doesn’t happen.
The 44-strong team of police staff work continuously with witnesses and victims to keep them ‘on board’, provide case updates, offer reassurance and get them to court at the right place and time.
Each can be in contact with more than 1,000 people at any one time, from witnesses with the smallest piece of information through to victims on which entire cases hinge.
Sharon Jackson leads the Witness Care Unit in Coventry, one of three bases alongside Wednesfield and the Lloyd House HQ. She said: “For some people the court process can be quite daunting so we explain what’s required of them, how it all works, perhaps arrange a site visit to the court in advance, or simply to lend an empathetic ear.
“Crime victims may be suffering mental health issues so if we have any concerns we’ll make sure they get support from relevant agencies. We’ll also arrange travel to and from court for people who don’t have transport.
“We aim to get 100 per cent of people to court; there are times when that’s challenging as people may have changed phone numbers of moved home. And when that happens we turn detective ourselves to try and track them down.
“Every witness and victim has a role to play in securing justice and, without them, cases could collapse and some dangerous people may avoid justice."
In 2019, West Midlands Police sent 16,240 new cases to the Crown Prosecution Service for first court appearance.