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Putting in place long-term support for those affected by shooting

In her latest blog Alison Hernandez explains the work being undertaken to ensure appropriate support is in place to help Keyham recover from the tragic events that unfolded in the heart of its community on August 12.

Putting in place long-term support for those affected by shooting

On Thursday the people of Plymouth came together at the city’s St Andrew’s Church for a service of remembrance dedicated to the five citizens of that city who’s killing a week earlier shocked and appalled a nation.

Led by the Bishop of Plymouth, Nick McKinnel, the service was attended by residents, community and city leaders, with many watching outside on giant screens or tuning in to a live webcast.

This incident united politicians of different colours and people of different faiths and communities, with the Pope sending the city a message of "spiritual closeness and blessing" to the families of the victims.

Of course, questions are now being asked about how this happened, why the gunman who later turned his weapon on himself and had it and his shotgun certificate returned to him a month before his deadly spree.

The shooting has sparked three inquiries around the licensing of guns.

The specifics around this case and Devon and Cornwall Police’s actions are subject to an inquiry by the Independent Office of Police Conduct, which on Friday gave details of the scope of its investigation.

The Home Office is conducting a review of the current legislation, considering matters such as whether social media accounts of licence applicants should be scrutinised prior to licenses being issued.

And I am working with the Chief Constable to set the terms of a swift review of firearms licensing in Devon and Cornwall. This will be led by the National Police Chief Council which will appoint another force to conduct the review.

So, the processes and decisions around this appalling incident are subject to intense scrutiny. They will be understood, and if legislative changes are required to make this country safer then I have every faith that the Government will take the necessary action.

Our collective responsibility must now turn to the people affected by this heinous crime. We must ask what we can do to help them, how can we ensure that the city, and particularly Keyham and Ford, are not defined by this incident. As commissioner for victim services, I will ensure they are given every opportunity to recover as best they can.

The consequences will be felt by many. The shootings happened on a sunny summer evening across a significant area of residential Plymouth. There were approximately 3,000 people living behind the police cordon in its aftermath. Dozens of men women and children saw the shootings or dealt with the injured and dying. Still more knew those who died. The trauma will perhaps be worse felt by the immediate victim, the families of the deceased and those in this community who counted them as friends, but it will not be limited to them – social media spread appalling images far and wide, despite police appeals not to publish them.

Police officers and Victim Support staff who have been on duty in this area in the past week have reported a community in a state of shock. They have met dog walkers who feel afraid to go out and traumatised children.

That is why within hours of the shooting my team were on the scene, with Victim Support, signposting people to 24/7 help and advice. It is why our van remained in the community for a week. It is why Ford Primary School was packed with professionals offering every type of support, guidance and companionship.

But as the weeks and months progress that immediate response will inevitably be scaled back. Indeed, it is only right for this community that it is – there is a risk that by being too physically present these services can actually hinder the recovery.

We must, however, ensure that practical and emotional help is in place for the long term. As Wednesday’s church service drew to a close my office was submitting a bid to the Ministry of Justice for a substantial package of measures that will fund specific and dedicated resources for this community over a two-year period.

If successful we will be able to fund additional specialist counselling for those who require it and put in place additional specialist youth case workers and specialist trauma therapy. The new strategic partnership I announced earlier in the year means we worked on this bid with the experts at Victim Support. Sadly because of tragic events such as the Manchester terrorist attack and the Grenfell fire they are practiced, skilled and experienced at dealing with trauma.

We are also working with a range of partners including Plymouth City Council on the Plymouth Together Fund, helping to coordinate and distribute all the fundraising that has been raised to support the families and communities impacted by this tragedy. Thousands of pounds have already been donated to various charities, groups and organisations to help support the communities impacted and to help them rebuild and restore.

To help co-ordinate the fundraising and ensure that funding is collected safely and distributed to those who need it, the Wolseley Trust will be the co-ordinating hub for the collections. The trust will be working with the Keyham community, including the Neighbourhood Watch group, and others, to collate all the fundraising that has been raised. Working arm-in-arm with the community, they will then distribute the funding to the families of the victims and also to other local projects, groups and activities.

So, my message to the people of Plymouth and the wider Devon and Cornwall community is that when the national media interest in this event has waned and the initial shock has passed, my office and our partners will be by your side to ensure you have the best possible services in place.

Victim Support is the largest provider of independent victim services in the UK. In 2019/20 Victim Support contacted 730,515 victims of crime and went on to support 112,586 of these. Over 803,000 people visited its website and its 24/7 Supportline received over 88,500 phone calls, emails and live chat sessions.