AN OXFORD MP has welcomed changes to the court system that would have helped victims of the Oxford grooming gang give evidence.

Nicola Blackwood, Oxford West and Abingdon MP, campaigned for better treatment of vulnerable victims after seeing young women give evidence against a child sex ring at the Old Bailey last year.

She has welcomed Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP’s announcement this week, which has set out the rights of such witnesses in law.

Under the Government’s “Victims’ Law,” to be introduced next year, victims will have the right to tell a court how their lives have been affected in a personal statement, will be automatically referred to support organisations and will be guaranteed updates at every stage of the court process.

Government-funded lawyers will also be given specialist victims training before they take on serious sex crime cases, and a helpline and website for victims will be set up.

Thames Valley Police’s Operation Bullfinch saw six young women give evidence against an organised child sex ring in Oxford.

Seven men were convicted of crime including rape and arranging child prostitution but defence barristers branded the girls liars and argued they had used too much drink and drugs to have reliable memories.

Ms Blackwood said she had seen there how the system could “re-traumatise” victims. She said: “Having pressed hard for better protections for victims in our courts system I am delighted that the Government has committed to doing more to support victims of crime.

“I have seen first-hand how the court process can re-traumatise a fragile young witness who has to describe, to a roomful of men in wigs, the violent sexual abuse they have been subjected to – sometimes on multiple occasions over many years.

“It is in the interest of justice that we do all we can to support the most vulnerable witnesses in the most sensitive cases, so they are able to give the best evidence in court, and these reforms are welcome step in that direction.

“If the court process is less traumatising more victims will come forward, fewer investigations will collapse and more prosecutions will be successful.”

Mr Grayling, announcing the new law on Sunday, said: “Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support.

“For the first time we will create a system that puts the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and sets out their rights clearly in legislation.”

Changes to the court system were part of the Miss Blackwood’s “Childhood Lost” campaign, which gather more than 100,000 signatures after she launched it last year.

It saw the Government create new powers to pursue civil court orders against suspected child sex abusers – even if they cannot be prosecuted in a criminal court.

But a mother of one of the Oxford victims said nothing had changed yet.

She said: “We were promised change to the way the victims are treated in court after the first Bullfinch trial nearly 18 months ago, but the reality is that up and coming trials due to be heard in the next six months or so, victims are going to be subject to pretty much the same old process.

“The awful truth is that despite crocodile tears no one actually thinks the victims matter very much at all, they are simply a means to an end.”



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