UK & World News

  • 28 December 2012, 5:27

New Witness Protection Scheme To Be Launched

Britain's first national witness protection scheme will be launched after it was revealed that a quarter of collapsed prosecutions are due to witnesses being unwilling to give evidence.

Some 19m is already spent on witness protection programmes in the UK, but their operation and standards vary by area.

The new UK Protected Persons Service will launch in December next year and introduce a nationwide standard of protection, and promote intelligence sharing between police forces.

There were 600 cases of witness protection in 2012, covering up to 3,000 people.

Victims and witnesses of the Morecambe Bay disaster in Lancashire and witnesses to the murder of Rhys Jones in Liverpool are among individuals who have been given protected person status.

But some 18% of witnesses who attended court to give evidence in 2009/10 said they or their family felt intimidated at some point and 40% reported concerns about coming into contact with the defendant and their supporters, the Ministry of Justice said.

Just over one in four collapsed prosecutions last year were a result of witnesses or victims being unwilling to give evidence, according to government figures.

"Witnesses are the unsung heroes of society, especially those who could be jeopardising their own safety," said victims minister Helen Grant.

"We are clear any witness whose life could be in danger must be given the best possible protection."

Police calls for an improved, national service stepped up in the wake of an inquest into the gangland killings of a middle-aged Lincolnshire couple in 2004.

John and Joan Stirland were found shot dead at their bungalow in the village of Trusthorpe on August 8, 2004.

The inquest, held in February last year, heard that the shooting was a "revenge" attack after Mrs Stirland's son, Michael O'Brien, shot 22-year-old Marvyn Bradshaw dead outside a Nottingham pub in August 2003.

The inquest heard that, despite Mrs Stirland speaking to her family liaison officer shortly before 2pm on August 8 to report a stalker, the couple did not receive a visit from Lincolnshire Police until 9.30pm that evening.

The jury in the inquest found Nottinghamshire Police failed to share intelligence about the threat posed to the couple - but cleared Lincolnshire Police of failing to protect them.

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