Tom Richmond: The rights and wrongs of crime victims left in dark

Helen Newlove is the Victims Commissioner.
Helen Newlove is the Victims Commissioner.
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MY heart truly sank this week when I heard Helen Newlove – the Victims Commissioner – say black cab rapist Jon Warboys had “more rights” than the innocent women that he had attacked.

“There’s offender rights, not victim rights,” she asserted. The Tory peer should know – she only became a campaigner on this issue, one of Theresa May’s burning injustices, after her husband Garry was murdered in 2007 by a gang of teenagers after he confronted them outside the couple’s home.

Is the criminal justice system still so inflexible – and so inhuman – that victims, and their families, are still kept in the dark about the progress of cases and Parole Board decisions when evil predators like Warboys are eligible for release? It’s basic communication.

It is nearly 20 years since I first met retired Yorkshire nurse Molly Godley in Exeter after her 37-year-old son Ian, a former soldier, had been murdered by arsonists who poured petrol through the letter box of his flat in Kilmarnock.

Though two youths, aged 11 and 14, were charged with murder shortly afterwards, the case was later dropped and, shamefully, Mrs Godley – one of the most humble women I have met – has not been told the reasons for this decision, or why the police never actively sought anyone else in the inquiry.

Despite letters to Tony Blair and a succession of senior politicians, progress could not be made, not least because of differences between the English and Scottish legal systems. Yet imagine Mrs Godley’s pain when she heard Mr Blair – and Home Secretaries like David Blunkett – say, time and time again, that victims would be placed “at the heart of the criminal justice system”.

They’re not. The fact that some of Warboys’ victims found out about his forthcoming release from the media, despite David Gauke, the newly-appointed Justice Secretary, saying “the correct procedures” had been followed, says it all. The excuses must end.

In fairness to Mr Gauke, he’s having to sort out the mess of others – he was only appointed on Monday – but it demonstrates that much more still needs to be done before the justice system truly respects victims at the very least.

It’s the least they deserve – the women raped by Warboys, and the likes of Helen Newlove, Molly Godley and many others, are already suffering a lifetime of anguish and torment after the loss of loved ones in the most painful circumstances.

IT is a measure of the esteem in which Justine Greening was held that her political opponents lamented her departure as Education Secretary. I’m not surprised – reporting on her return visit to her former secondary school in Rotherham was one of the most memorable Ministerial visits that I’ve covered.

She showed real empathy with pupils in her home town and she spoke with passion about her desire for ‘equality of opportunity for all’.

Even though her political career is on hold – the atmosphere in Government must have been pretty toxic for her to turn down the welfare brief which is intrinsically linked to social mobility – it could, in time, be the making of the first Education Secretary to have studied at a comprehensive school.

Why? Free from the burdens of office – she realised that Theresa May’s desire for more grammar schools was impractical with the current Parliamentary arithmetic – Ms Greening can speak out more candidly and, in doing so, build her profile and reputation as one of the most thoughtful figures in public life.

I, for one, hope this proud Yorkshirewoman can find a role that suits her talents. And she should remember this – William Hague, who also hailed from Rotherham, enjoyed a successful Cabinet comeback after being refreshed and rejuvenated by thinking time on the backbenches.

IN case you missed it, The Yorkshire Post’s editorial on the reshuffle did lament the reappointment of Chris Grayling as Transport Secretary.

“He’s been shown to be untrustworthy, biased in favour of London and no friend of Yorkshire,” declared this newspaper.

There’s now no chance of high-speed rail in the North taking precedence over schemes Crossrail 2 in London. Why? Mr Grayling’s new deputy Jo Johnson, brother of Boris, has also been made Minister for London. Enough said.

MATT Hancock could not answer straightforward questions about broadband connectivity a few months ago. Now he’s Culture Secretary with the digital brief. I pity the rural areas without any reasonable coverage.

TALKING of the reshuffle, how does it make sense for Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew to be made a junior minister at the Welsh Office – or much-regarded foreign affairs specialist Rory Stewart to be given the prisons brief?

THE BBC’s failure to pay Carrie Gracie, 
its former China Editor, the same as other foreign correspondents must be bad – even Shipley MP Philip Davies, no natural supporter of equality causes, backed her in the House of Commons this week. His suggestion was to reduce the obscene sums paid to top male broadcasters.

NOTE to Leeds City Council. If the council tax is to rise by five per cent, the authority has no excuse for scaling back the gritting main roads during freezing weather after parts of the main A65 were allowed to become an ice rink.

THE press office from 10 Downing Street have been in touch requesting a meeting with, amongst others, ‘Tim Richmond’. Good luck. I, too, would like to meet him one day.