The inquest is a public judicial inquiry to find the answers to a limited but important set of questions including: Who the deceased were; When and where they died; The medical cause of their death; How they came by their death. It is usually the 'how' question that is the main focus of the inquest. The Coroner cannot, in law, deal with any other matters.
It is a fact-finding process. It does not deal with issues of blame or responsibility for the death, or with issues of criminal or civil liability. These can be addressed in other courts if necessary part of the legal process is expected to last for several weeks, will be very difficult for many of those taking part, and extremely challenging for many residents of our largest city who are trying to come to terms with the worst crimes committed in our force area in living memory.
My thoughts over the duration of the inquests will especially be with the families of those murdered and the victims who survived the attacks.
While the media attention that these hearings will attract may not be welcomed, it is right that these the hearings are open to the press and public. Inquests are an essential process for society to understand mistakes, coroners make regular recommendations that result in safer communities for us all, and it is vital that accurate and balanced reports of proceedings are published.
The inquest is being held at Exeter Racecourse but I am pleased steps have been taken that allow Plymouth residents to view proceedings at the city council’s location in Armada Way, with priority given to bereaved families and those directly affected by these incidents.
In my role as commissioner of services I am assured that high quality support and help for those traumatised by the shootings remains in place. My team and Victim Support workers were in place the day after the shootings and remained in Plymouth for many days, but research shows that the trauma caused by such incidents can be long lasting, so continued support must be too.
My office co-ordinated funding bids that resulted in £800,000 of Home Office funding granted to Keyham, Ford and the surrounding areas to pay for a programme of community engagement and crime prevention which aims to reassure residents that their neighbourhoods are safe places to live, work and play.
This grant consists of a Safer Keyham fund of £308,000 for crime prevention measures which have delivered. This was for better home security, improved CCTV and lighting upgrades, environmental improvements, community training, youth engagement and projects to improve the area.
There was also raised a Keyham Community Policing fund of £514,000 to provide reassurance and pay for a dedicated community team of police officers for the area, as well as funding problem solving activity and youth engagement support.
More recently additional funding was secured to ensure that the team created to support those affected could remain in place until the inquest had been completed.
Since the devastating events of August 12, 2021, it has been heartwarming to see the difference that this support has made. Victim Support caseworkers have been on hand to help people make sense of how a crime like this has made them think, feel and act. Specialist support has been in place for young people affected by what happened. Particularly because some young people were some of the first on the scene.
Keyham and Ford did not have high crime rates before the shooting, and thanks in part to a dedicated neighbourhood team led by Inspector Paul Laity, crime has fallen significantly since.
This part of Devon and Cornwall might have been the location of these horrendous incidents, but it is also the scene of hope, reconciliation, support and the strength of a close-knit community.
There will no doubt be lessons to learn from these incidents, for Government, policing, for our local authorities and health services. Right now we must allow the coroner and the citizens who make up his jury to do their difficult work, and remain open and receptive to their findings.
If you have been a victim of any crime or affected by the Keyham incident support services at no cost to you through:
Plymouth Together: www.plymouthtogether.co.uk
Victim Support 24/7: www.victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 16 89 111
The Samaritans 24/7: www.samaritans.org or call 116 123
Young Devon: www.youngdevon.org
Livewell Southwest’s ‘First Response Service’ 24/7: call 0800 923 9323