Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen has announced funding for a new specialist worker to enhance support for victims and witnesses of road tragedies.
The new Specialist Victim Care Officer will be based within Durham Constabulary’s Roads and Armed Policing Serious Collision Investigation Unit (SCIU) and will work directly with the SCIU to provide practical and emotional support to anyone impacted by a serious road collision. This includes bereaved loved-ones, witnesses and those who provide life-saving care in the immediate aftermath of a fatal or life-changing road collision.
The new post fulfils the County Durham and Darlington PCC’s Police and Crime Plan pledge to enhance support for victims of road traffic accidents and their families as part of her priority to deliver Safer Roads.
Working as part of the Commissioner’s Victim Care and Advice Service (VCAS), the Specialist Victim Care Officer will be highly trained and skilled in recognising the complexities of trauma and the risks to the individuals affected. They will also have significant knowledge of the local and national support available to further help bereaved and seriously injured individuals move forward with their lives, including community-based projects that will be well-placed to meet their needs.
On average, 20 people die and 224 people suffer serious injuries on the roads of County Durham and Darlington every year, all of which are either investigated or overseen and supported by the SCIU.
Serious injuries range from a broken finger to a life-changing injury and Roads Policing Officers deal with around 95 per cent of cases. The remaining five per cent, due to the severity of the injuries sustained, along with all fatal collisions, are investigated by the SCIU.
Commissioner Allen said: “Losing a partner, family member or loved one in a road tragedy is a deeply traumatic experience. In the days and weeks following a death, there will be intense feelings of shock, grief, blame and loss. The judicial process including police investigations, inquests and court proceedings can be equally disorientating and traumatic.
“This funding recognises the scale of this impact and loss and provides those affected with a superior level of support that not only assists the police in their search for the truth, but importantly helps those involved to come to terms with their loss and grief in a positive and compassionate way.
“Making our roads safer remains a core focus of my work and I continue to push for tougher sentences for those who drive dangerously. Any one collision could have between 15 and 30 witnesses, many of whom may have been significantly affected by what they have witnessed. There are often members of the public who provide immediate first aid at the scene. The availability of a dedicated specialist resource within the Roads Policing Team will allow us to widen the support currently available and meet the needs of all those affected, while supporting and enhancing the delivery of justice.”
The PCC also highlighted the importance of building on the work of victims of road collisions, who have since become campaigners for road safety and associated matters.
She added: “Some people who have been affected by road collisions decide that they will campaign to see issues that affect them addressed. I believe that this post will also strengthen the work of those committed individuals, who often have very little official support.”
Chief Superintendent Paul Gray, of Durham Constabulary, said: “The impact of a road traffic collision can be instantly life changing whether you are a victim or have witnessed the incident. No-one knows how they will react with a situation like this yet the trauma that can come because of it is incomprehensible.
“Our new Victim Care Officer will be there to meet the needs of everyone involved and to provide a bespoke level of care, which I believe is of paramount importance to support them to cope and recover in the best possible way.”
The new role will be managed by VCAS, the PCC’s centralised service specialising in providing practical and emotional support for anyone who has been affected by crime.
VCAS has several years of experience in supporting bereaved individuals and families following fatal or serious injury collisions.
The new service will open up support to a wider number of people impacted by such tragedies including witnesses and those who have provided life-support at the scene.