Nightingale Court secured for Kent

Victims and witnesses deserve efficient and effective justice and this new facility will help deliver that.

Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, says he’s delighted the Ministry of Justice has agreed to establish a Nightingale Court in Maidstone. The court, which will be at the Mercure Hotel in the city, will be an extension of Maidstone Crown Court and will be operational this week.

Matthew Scott has been lobbying with Sevenoaks MP Laura Trott for such a court for many months, citing serious delays in the local court system due to the pandemic. Like many parts of the country, Kent has a significant backlog with some cases not listed for trial until 2022.

However, the establishment of a Nightingale Court will alleviate some of this pressure. It will hear civil, tribunal and other non-custodial cases, freeing up Maidstone Crown Court to hear jury trials which require cells and secure dock facilities.

Mr. Scott says, “I lobbied Ministers for the Nightingale Court because it is vital we address the backlog of cases in our justice system. Victims and witnesses deserve efficient and effective justice and this new facility will help deliver that. I am pleased that the Government is listening and acting on this crucial issue.

“I congratulate the team at HM Courts and Tribunal Service locally for their work to deliver this and pay tribute to all criminal justice agencies who are doing their best in difficult circumstances to ensure that our justice system continues to provide.

Domestic abuse continues to rise even as lockdown eases

Domestic abuse reports have risen in recent years and continue to do so during the pandemic.

Every Monday, I meet with Chief Officers to discuss crime and antisocial behaviour, operational issues, performance, community engagement and the matters that residents raise with me.

A key issue during the course of the last fifteen months has been domestic abuse and violence, which many correctly warned would increase in volume during the period of lockdown. There has, over the last five years, been an increasing number of reports made by victims to police of 47%. (Source).

I have been briefed this week that the numbers of crimes have continued to rise, with an increase of 9.7% this April compared with April last year. And in April 2020 we had seen an increase of 14.1%.

There will be a number of reasons for this rise. There is of course greater awareness through increased efforts to encourage people to come forward, both at a local and national level. This increase in confidence is a positive step, even if it seems like an increase in crime reports might be negative; it’s important because more people can get support from the police and others, especially if they have reported for the first time.

Other factors have been contributing to the increase – domestic abuse between family members has been on the increase for some time and locally we have new services in place to support victims of adolescent to parent violence. Crime recording standards have improved. And unfortunately, the nature of lockdown itself will have contributed to the increase as well.

We also discussed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, which has received Royal Assent. This is an excellent development because for the first time we will have a legal definition of domestic abuse that is wide-ranging and delivers extra protections and support for victims. I will be working with Kent Police and the charities that I commission to ensure that we are all ready for the implementation of the Act.

Please remember, if you or someone you know needs help, dial 999 in an emergency. Information about support services can be found here.

A note of caution on the roll out of e-scooter trials

Let’s fix the issues with e-scooters, before the problems grow further.

In launching an extensive trial of electric scooters in London, Will Norman, the walking and cycling commissioner, says that:

“No-one is going to be riding all the way across London on one, but what I wanted was enough ‘joined-up spaces’ to make this work.”

Evening Standard

I’m sad to say that people will, if they aren’t already. The Government-backed trials of e-scooters are taking place in many locations, including in Canterbury, to look at their positive and negative impacts and how they could regulate them in the future.

And there are some obvious environmental benefits which Mr Norman points to, if people use them as an alternative to cars. Sales are soaring, but the schemes already in place are contributing to confusion around the law. I’m regularly receiving complaints about the inappropriate use of e-scooters.

Outside of the trial areas, you can’t use them on public land, but many already are. This places an additional expectation on the police to do further enforcement (which they are) and I’m aware of one council who has already asked directly for this outside of their trial area.

There are other issues too. For example, you must be over 18 to use an e-scooter. During an awareness campaign on the law surrounding e-scooters I ran at Christmas, I was even told in a Facebook group that I should:

Let kids be kids… mine have one and they ride it out on pavements they certainly don’t run it into people or cars…it’s a craze at the moment just let them enjoy life while they’re still young! More important things to worry about than a child riding a scooter…

Facebook Post

Besides the fact you are enabling children to put themselves and the public at risk. Parents have a role to play here as well.

We are in danger of adding problems to the road network rather than fixing some of the outstanding issues that we have, creating extra burdens on policing. It’s similar to the problems I have warned about with smart motorways. There aren’t enough refuges, and so safety risks have been created before some of the solutions – like improved lane cameras – are live.

So let’s solve the issues now, else their use, and the associated confusion and risk, will continue to grow.

Guidance on e-scooters can be found here.

Funding secured to support victims of abuse

My team and I have secured extra cash for services specially designed to help people who’ve suffered either domestic abuse or sexual violence.

The Government has agreed to give more than £1.38 million to help support some of Kent’s most vulnerable people. Domestic Abuse has risen across the country during the pandemic and Kent’s Police Force dealt with 3233 more victims than the previous year (an increase of 9% since 2019).

My team and I have secured extra cash for services specially designed to help people who’ve suffered either domestic abuse or sexual violence. It’s on top of a further £275,000 already being spent helping young victims of sexual violence.

I am delighted these vital services are receiving extra funding. The work they do is invaluable and without them some of the most vulnerable people in our community would simply be unable to cope. They help children and adults alike and despite very real challenges, they make a huge difference to so many.

I am committed to working to reduce the pain caused by domestic abuse and sexual violence and it remains a priority for my second term in post.

Boosting our mental health, enjoying nature and protecting the countryside

Let’s get out into nature and enjoy what we have around us – and look after the countryside too.

Mental Health Awareness Week is always an important opportunity for us all to talk about this important issue. After a difficult year for so many of us, it remains something that should be at the top of the agenda for Government and society as a whole. We all have a part to play in supporting one another with the nation’s mental health. I’m pleased that the Queen’s Speech included a commitment to doing just this.

Measures will be brought forward to support the health and wellbeing of the nation, including to… improve mental health.

Queen’s Speech 2021

In my last term, I was appointed to the Independent Mental Health Act review, working with experts, charities and professionals from across the health and care sector on getting people the right care from the right person at the right time. Policing will always have a role to play in mental health, but it remains a concern that a lot of police time is spent dealing with it. A White Paper, based on the recommendations of the review, was consulted on by the Government recently. This will take forward proposals on where people can be safely detained and how patients should be conveyed to a place of safety.

In addition, I attended a meeting of the Crisis Care Senior Operational Group, which includes the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and representatives of both policing and health, to discuss a draft proposal to improve the handover of patients by the police to health professionals, which is a key reason for some of the delays that Officers experience.

I’m pleased that we are making progress in this area and that it remains a national priority for action.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week itself is connecting with nature, which given the restrictions we have had over the last fourteen months and having to spend so much time at home, is a fantastic idea. You can find nature where ever you are and connect in so many ways. You can get out in to nature or bring it home to you. You can exercise in nature or just take a moment to pause and experience it with all of your senses.

We are so lucky to have nature all around us, especially here in Kent. And we can all give something back to nature at this time, either by recycling more, walking more often, or joining up community clear up groups.

If you do get out in to nature, it is important that we respect and protect our environment too and remember the Countryside Code. Please be considerate to others and your surroundings. Follow the advice provided and local signage as to which routes you can use. Keep your dogs under control and away from animals. And take any litter away with you.

Finally, do remember. You are not alone and it is ok to not be ok. You can call Samaritans any time on 116123.

The White Paper on mental and what it means for policing

The Government has today published “Reforming the Mental Health Act”.

The Government has today published “Reforming the Mental Health Act” – a revolutionary White Paper aimed at improving provision of services and the system itself. I was privileged to serve on the independent review and Chair the Police Working Group.

I’m pleased that the Government is taking forward the recommendations that were made. Some highlights:

“We have committed to reform the MHA to stop the use of police cells as places of safety by 2023 to 2024.”

Not the police’s fault this happened – and use is already falling by choice and design.

On conveyance, people were more likely to be transported by police than health services after being detained by police under section 136.

“The NHS Long Term Plan commits to investment to improve the capacity and capability of ambulance services to meet mental health demand – helping to avoid the use of the police.”

On the time spent dealing with s136 cases:

“We will establish a national agreement between mental health services, social care and the police to ensure that people detained under section 136 are safely and effectively transferred into health services in a timely way”

Other issues addressed include options around the commissioning of health services in police custody and monitoring of police interactions with people from BAME backgrounds.

The White Paper takes on the recommendations that Chief Constable Mark Collins and I helped to make. Well done to everyone involved!