Posted by HSMP Forum at 11/28/2012 3:13 PM |
VICTIMS VERSUS CRIMINALS
With a rising number of robberies, burglaries, shoplifting and housebreaking cases, London has really become an unsafe place to live in. The public is increasingly being targeted by unscrupulous lads for mobile phones, money and jewellery.
Many of the victims are women, belonging to the ethnic minorities who wear their gold wedding chains (known as “mangalsutra” in India or “thalikkodi” in Srilanka) as part of their culture. Theft of such invaluable possessions often has psychological and emotional effects, making it difficult for them to get on with their lives.
These incidents affect the victims and witnesses in different ways:
A man who was robbed of his chain did not make a formal police complaint initially since he thought it would be impossible to recover the chain. However, he made a complaint to the police after he spotted the offenders at a later date. Having made a witness statement, he hoped to have recognised them in an identification parade but was later informed that the identity of the offenders could not be established and hence they were released. He said it was highly disappointing that the police were seeking him to identify the culprits from some unclear and confusing video footage which made it difficult for him to identify the offenders. According to him, following the formal procedure was a complete waste of time which got him nowhere. Also, it has scarred him so much that he now finds it difficult to walk down the streets alone.
A victim of domestic burglary, this Srilankan woman says wearing jewellery on special occasions is a matter of great pride for their community. She was devastated after this jewellery was stolen from her house for which her family had saved for a decade. Her shop was also targeted by miscreants who made away with goods worth thousands of pounds, robbing her family of their only source of livelihood. The family now is struggling to run their business and cannot afford to buy any jewellery. Besides, the incidents have left a deep impact on their child, who too is scared to move around freely even inside their own house. Both these incidents have been reported to the police but no progress has been made.
In another incident, an elderly person had to be admitted to hospital for a week after he was seriously assaulted by robbers who were trying to steal his chain. He says he had called the police for help but they never arrived at the spot.
Victims state that they are now wary of opening their doors even for the postman or a neighbour. Others claim that it has instilled a sense of suspicion in everyone around them. Those who boldly came forward to give evidence as witnesses in courts now are worried about the ramifications of their actions. They do not have any faith in the police who they doubt will be able to protect them from the offenders if they turn up as witnesses in court. Some witnesses who reported such matters to the police were threatened face to face by the culprits of dire consequences.
The police are unhappy with the public that most of them do not report such crimes and even if they do, they do not cooperate enough. But contrary to what they say, the situation becomes worse if the victim comes forward to do so; they are expected to follow a lengthy procedure of making their witness statement and then recognise the offender from some unclear footage at an identification parade. It is a pointless exercise if ultimately the victim’s evidence is not considered ‘strong enough’ in identifying the criminal, and then the case is closed.
Well, what happens if the victim has given their evidence without leaving any room for suspicion? Will the criminal be duly punished for his/ her offences? The answer would be a disappointing “no”. When the criminal’s offence is proved with ample evidence, if they admit that they have committed the offence and if it does not come under the pre-defined “serious offences” the prosecution service will be so considerate towards them that they are not prosecuted, but are given a “conditional caution” meant for adult offenders.
“Conditional caution” is given “when the Crown Prosecutor is satisfied that the public interest can best be served by the offender complying with suitable conditions aimed at reparation, rehabilitation or punishment”. A prosecution will continue only if the offender fails to comply with the conditions.
Statistics show that a conditional caution or a sentence does not make any difference in the intention of the criminals to reoffend. Statistics show more than half a million crimes were committed by known offenders last year, half of which were carried out by career criminals. The shocking rise in the reoffending rates urges the Ministry of Justice to reform the criminal justice system so that offenders are properly punished and the root cause of their behaviour is addressed.
As far as the victim’s plight is concerned, on the one hand, their naivety is threatened and exploited by the offenders, and on the other hand it is challenged by the police. All the pains they have undergone in losing their valued possessions and the time and effort taken to co-operate with the police in finding the criminals oddly vanishes into thin air when the criminal is let out with a simple “conditional caution” or perhaps with no caution at all.
A “conditional caution” will affect the offender only in terms of their future employment or air travel plans, which seems irrelevant and unsuitable to an offender who has indulged in crimes like robbery or burglary. It sounds as if the judicial system is trying to protect the criminals rather than the victims.
Is there any guarantee that the offenders will not commit a crime, if they are given a conditional caution? Will the police or prosecution take responsibility for any future offences by the criminal on conditional caution? What is the solution offered by the system to the victims? Is it unrealistic for the victims to expect that justice will be meted out?
The questions remain unanswered.
Author: Dr Subbulakshmi Natarajan
Dr Subbulakshmi Natarajan is a committee member of the HSMP Forum and campaigns against anti-social behaviour and crime in her local area.