DN 22/2021 – Creation of a Victims’ Centre
DN 22/2021 Date 07/12/2021
The Commissioner has decided to establish a new Victims’ Centre in York to house North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre and Child Sexual Assault Assessment Services and a dedicated Video-Recorded Interview suite for these victims, and separate Video-Recorded Interview suite for other vulnerable victims and witnesses, by purchasing a new commercial property and disposing of the current accommodation.
As set out in Decision Notice 17/2021: Dedicated Centre for Rape & Sexual Assault Victims the then Commissioner decided to establish a Sexual Assault and Rape Victims’ Centre, and to establish a separate Video-Recorded Interview (VRI) suite in York for other vulnerable victims and witnesses by purchasing two suitable properties and disposing of the current shared accommodation.
Following extensive searches, only one commercial property available for purchase has been identified which meets the operational requirements of both Sexual Assault Referral Centre (“SARC”) and Child Sexual Assault Assessment Services (“CSAAS”) provided by organisations commissioned by the Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner; as well as Video-Recorded Interview (“VRI”) facilities utilised by North Yorkshire Police for vulnerable victims and witnesses in York.
The purpose of a SARC is to co-ordinate and simplify the pathway for victims of rape and sexual assault to access wider healthcare, social care, and criminal justice processes to improve individual health and well-being, as well as criminal justice outcomes. SARC (for adults) and the CSAAS (for children) typically provide three main elements following disclosure of an offence:
- healthcare; and
- forensic examinations; and
- visually recorded interviews, supporting Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) guidelines.
The Commissioner currently jointly commissions CSAAS in North Yorkshire with NHS England; and jointly commissions a single Yorkshire and the Humber regional Adult SARC service with NHS England, the two Police and Crime Commissioners, and Mayor within the Yorkshire and the Humber region.
The Forensic Science Regulator (“FSR”) ensures that the provision of forensic science services across the criminal justice system (including SARC and CSAAS) is subject to an appropriate regime of scientific quality standards. In 2020 a new requirement was introduced by the FSR for all SARC/CSAAS to be accredited by the UK Accreditation Service (“UKAS”) under ISO 15189:2012 by October 2023. Failure to meet the accreditation standards must be disclosed in any subsequent criminal justice proceedings. Such non-compliance would carry the following consequences:
- increased risk of unsuccessful prosecution of sexual offences; and
- decreased public confidence in the justice process; and in turn
- the possibility of fewer disclosures by victims, of rape and sexual assault
The SARC and CSAAS are currently delivered in North Yorkshire from a converted 2-storey detached house in a residential street in the York District. The forensic examination suite is located on the 1st floor and accessible only by stairs, so it is not suitable for wheelchair users or those with mobility difficulties; anyone with mobility restrictions is offered an appointment at one of the other more accessible sites within the YatH region. The current premises also accommodate a VRI suite on the ground floor that is used exclusively by North Yorkshire Police. The premises are not soundproof and to avoid disruption to recordings when the VRI suite is in use, a shared calendar is in place for each service to have sole access to the premises without disturbance, but this is becoming more difficult to manage as demand for both services has increased considerably.
It follows that aside from the UKAS accreditation imperative, the current premises are not considered fit for purpose beyond the very short term.
The anticipated overall financial implications of this decision have been provided to the Commissioner in making this decision. Purchase of the building and the costs of installing the necessary facilities within it, will exceed £1m. In the interests of achieving the best commercial terms in respect of the purchase of the property, more detailed financial parameters have not been included within this Decision Notice. An addendum to this Decision Notice will be published as soon as the practicable after the purchase of the building is completed, setting out the financial implications of this decision. It is anticipated that in due course, the existing SARC premises will be sold, realising a capital return to offset some of the cost of the new premises.
Relocation of the SARC/CSAAS & VRI facilities to a single new premise will:
- ensure SARC/CSAAS will be able to achieve UKAS Accreditation and ensure continued delivery of SARC/CSAAS for victims of rape and sexual assault in North Yorkshire to support them to recover, heal and rebuild their lives;
- improve availability of fully accessible SARC/CSAAS & VRI facilities for those with mobility needs;
- improve the overall experience of all victims using these facilities;
- support the commissioned provider of SARC/CSAAS by offering larger, more adequate office space and dedicated staff changing rooms with staff showers and lockers or cabinets;
- support officers in achieving best evidence when interviewing victims and witnesses by helping them feel more assured and comfortable;
- assist North Yorkshire Police in effectively meeting the requirements of Sections 27 and 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999; and
- afford a modest degree of fallow capacity within the building with potential to accommodate additional complementary services for victims in line with the Commissioner’s overall mandate for amplification of such services
The Commissioner has decided to establish a Victims’ Centre in York to house North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre and Child Sexual Assault Assessment Services and a dedicated Video-Recorded Interview suite for these victims, and separate Video-Recorded Interview suite for other vulnerable victims and witnesses by purchasing one new commercial property and disposing of the current accommodation.
Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire
Statutory Officer Advice
Legal, Management and Equality Implications
The Commissioner’s Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer, having read this report and having considered such information as has been provided at the time of being asked to express this view, is satisfied that this report does not ask the Commissioner to make a decision which would (or would be likely to) give rise to a contravention of the law.
Financial and Commercial
The Commissioner’s Chief Finance Officer and S151 Officer has advised that the funding to support these proposals are affordable within the Capital Earmarked Reserves that the Commissioner holds. The expected overall financial implications of this decision have been provided to the Commissioner in making this decision however they have not been included within this Decision Notice to ensure that the best commercial terms for the purchase can be achieved.
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