Service provides justice for victims with learning disabilities

Cases involving victims of crime and witnesses with learning disabilities have been successfully prosecuted thanks to a service funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.

The People First Forum’s Witness Profiling Service provides support to people with learning disabilities who need to attend court.

Paul Thomas, who runs the service, spends time with victims and witnesses ahead of hearings and writes detailed reports describing their medical and communication needs and how often they need breaks.

This is given to the judge, prosecution and defence, along with an agreed set of rules to make sure people with learning disabilities – who may also have other needs such as Asperger’s or ADHD – are able to give their best evidence.

Paul explains: “This can include making sure information is provided in a way that’s easy to understand and they aren’t asked questions in a way that could confuse them. I sometimes provide information about how that person indicates they’re stressed.

“They’re often very nervous about attending court so the most important thing is to spend time with them to build up a trusting relationship and build their confidence.”

Paul, who works closely with Witness Services and Witness Care, also prepares the victims and witnesses for hearings by arranging visits to court buildings, provides simple explanations of potentially confusing legal terms, and explains how the court process works.

He helps explain issues involving the case in simple language and says his role is independent from social services or the police who do not have the time to provide this level of support.

The number of referrals he works with has increased from eight in 2009 to 52 last year, and Paul has seen people who have been victims of assault, domestic violence, sexual abuse and hate crime – with the majority of cases ending in defendants being found or pleading guilty.

People who have received support have praised the service, saying:

  • “I would not have gone to court without Paul’s help.”
  • “Paul made me feel very calm and by the time the trial came I knew him really well and so I wasn’t as nervous.”
  • “After the trial he made sure I was referred for counselling.”

Dorset’s Chief Crown Prosecutor Joanne Jakymec said: “Witness Profiling has been invaluable in supporting vulnerable victims and witnesses of crime and has undoubtedly contributed to the successful prosecution of cases that without Witness Profiling may not have come to court.”

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “Supporting vulnerable victims and witnesses is a major priority of mine, and Paul’s work is making a huge difference to those people he supports.”

The role was originally launched as a pilot in Bournemouth but has been funded by the Dorset OPCC since 2016 to cover the whole the whole of Dorset.

It is now funded by BCP Council as well as the Dorset OPCC, via the Safer Dorset Fund Priority Commissioning Scheme.

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