Investing in our public services

We all depend on our much-valued public services and it’s been good to catch up with local leaders.  

Thanks to the dedicated work of our NHS professionals, local health services are improving. Cornwall is also receiving more funding than in the past. Working with our local NHS, I made the case for changes in the formula used by NHS England to allocate funding for our local services. Past and recent changes better reflect the needs of our community and the costs of delivery.  

Our NHS funding will continue to increase. There is more to do but it is good to see improvements for patients noted by the regulator and the hospital inspectors of the Care Quality Commission. 

The interventions of NHS England are also helping Treliske turn a corner and significantly improve patient safety and timelines in accessing services. Treliske has always been highly rated for the quality of care provided by staff. 

This year we will see the publication and public consultation of the Mental Health Strategy for Cornwall. Along with a significant increase in spending on mental health services for people of all ages. With the assistance of dedicated government and parish council funding, there is more GP social prescribing too. 

I have been working with our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Alison Hernandez, to raise my concerns that we don’t have enough visible policing in our community. So I am pleased our Police this year will receive more resources. The number of Police Officers will be increasing to 3,015 by 2019/20, an overall increase of 115. They will continue with our team of 200 existing PCSOs. 

The focus of this investment to date includes a significant increase in the capacity on roads policing and road safety as well as an increase in the number of armed response officers across Devon and Cornwall.  

Road safety is one of the major issues raised by the public across our communities, last year we saw over 800 people killed or seriously injured in road accidents across the two counties. Through the Police’s new road safety strategy they are increasing the number of officers focused on roads policing and road safety by 24. A new ‘No Excuse’ prevention team will be targeting driver behaviour and the Fatal 5 causes of accidents – speed, fatigue, drink/drug driving, not wearing seatbelts and distractions like using mobile phones while driving. 

While I believe it is essential to have visible community policing, I understand that crime has changed and now most crime is invisible, perpetrated at home and often online. Fraud and crimes involving sexual harm, violence and abuse occur more than the more ‘traditional’ crimes. 

As crime changes so does the police response and in addition to funding local policing there continues to be increased investment into our regional and national crime specialist agencies, protecting people from the serious and organised criminals who trade in so much human suffering from scams, drug dealing and child sexual exploitation to human trafficking and modern slavery. 

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Welcoming Cornwall’s new Tri-Service Safety Officers

Last week I had the honour of participating in a passing out ceremony of eight new Tri-Service Safety Officers (TSSO). This role is a collaboration between Devon & Cornwall Police, South Western Ambulance Service (NHS) Foundation Trust and Cornwall Fire, Rescue & Community Safety Service.  

The TSSO role was developed in Cornwall in 2013 with an innovation grant of £200,000 from the Government. It’s important that we are constantly investing in new ways of delivering public services, responding to changing demands and circumstances, while at the same time delivering good value to the taxpayer. Since then it continues to evolve and become stronger in its brand and role within the community. We now have ten permanent TSSO’s across Cornwall. 

The TSSO role is jointly funded by all three emergency services. The role provides an emergency response for critical incidents within Fire and Ambulance and covers the community side and engagement of Policing. 

The role is primarily focussed on engagement, early intervention, prevention and reducing demand on emergency services. The TSSO has access to all three emergency services IT systems and this provides significant advantages in terms of understanding the ‘whole’ picture when it comes to safeguarding and information sharing between services.  

An award was presented to TSSO Andrew Hichens to recognise his outstanding achievements over a 15-month period between May 2015 and August 2017. He attended 499 police logged incidents, 181 incidents for the fire service and 226 ambulance calls. Andrew has been involved in 61 anti-social behaviour cases and 56 low level crime investigations. Additional prevention work has seen him undertake 322 home safety visits; he has made 159 safeguarding referrals and conducted 90 school/youth intervention meetings. 

From 1 April the new TSSO’s will be introducing themselves to their local councillors and communities. Each TSSO will be working in partnership with people and organisations in their communities, adapting to the local needs of the people they serve. The TSSOs will also be working closely with their respective Cornwall Council Community Link Officers to support and address any specific local concerns. 

The TSSOs are located in rural and coastal communities which analytical data shows would benefit from an increased presence from all three emergency services. 

I was delighted to meet Phillip Graham who will be based in Perranporth and will serve the surrounding community, an area he knows well as the area’s former PCSO. 

Last week I voted for the largest increase in funding for the Police in some time. I am pleased that our Police and Crime Commissioner’s plans for Cornwall, developed with the public, were voted through by our Police & Crime Panel. This will see Cornwall recruiting more much needed police officers.  

Over the next few months, in Falmouth and Penryn, I am surveying residents’ opinion, including about whether the universities, as they do in other areas, should be asked to make a financial contribution for additional police resources. I am asking how residents feel additional resources could be spent for the benefit of the whole community. 

First published in the West Briton 14/02/19

Supporting domestic abuse victims

I am delighted that both the Chief Executive and Chairperson of the RHCT have been confirmed in their positions. I am confident that under their leadership we will continue to see improvements at Treliske. Just like you, my family and I rely on our local NHS and I will continue to work hard to ensure that we receive our fair share of the significant additional funding that the government has committed to our NHS. 

Every day staff at Treliske, as well as those working in our community health and care services, will be working with people affected by domestic abuse – fellow members of staff as well as patients and their families. Domestic abuse affects many more people than you might imagine, people from all walks of life and backgrounds.  

This week the government launched the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and a package of 120 non-legislative measures to support victims and survivors of abuse and to stop the cycle of violence. With 2 million victims of domestic abuse last year, this is much-needed. This is a huge and very positive piece of work across national and local government.  

For many years, I have been working with a wide range of victims of domestic violence and organisations that support them, not only to do what I can to support them, but to campaign for changes to ‘the system’. Together, we have made some improvements, but this Bill brings together many of the most needed changes that will have a really positive impact on many people here and across the country. 

This Bill sets out a wide range of actions and here are just a few highlights: setting out in law the first cross-government definition of domestic abuse, including non-violent behaviour such as economic abuse; new, streamlined protection orders for victims and their children, including the powers to impose positive and negative requirements to stop the perpetrator; supporting victims in court through prohibiting cross-examination by perpetrators in family courts and granting special measures automatically in criminal courts; appointing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner whose sole focus will be tackling domestic abuse and ensuring good standards of services across country; more and better training for police, health professionals, Job Centre staff, housing officers and other frontline workers to help identify and support victims; improving and rolling out Op Encompass to all schools so that teachers know before the school day starts that a child in their care has witnessed domestic abuse the night before and put in place appropriate support. 

I have the privilege of working with local people delivering some excellent services for victims of domestic abuse in Cornwall and inspirational people breaking free of their abusers. I will be arranging meetings with all those organisations and people that I have been working with to review this draft Bill. I will work hard to secure any further changes identified. If you would like to contribute to my work on this important Bill, please do not hesitate in contacting me. 

First published in the West Briton 24/01/19

Clamping down on Child Sexual Abuse online

While there is so much more to Christmas than exchanging presents many of us will be. I suspect a new phone or tablet will feature on ‘wish lists’ of presents, especially for children and young people. Of course access to the internet can be hugely beneficial in many ways.

The unpalatable and unavoidable truth is that technology has made vile child sexual abuse and exploitation content vastly easier to find – and easier to participate in — through peer-to-peer file sharing, chatrooms and online forums.

And it has created conduits that enable abusers to search out and make contact with their victims in new ways.

The National Crime Agency tells me it is quite simply one of the most dangerous and harmful threats we face. Since 2013, there has been an exponential surge — a 700 per cent increase — in the number of indecent images of children that technology companies are alerting us to, so that we can identify the offenders and try to track down the children being abused.

Each month, there are more than 400 arrests and over 500 children being protected through coordinated action by the NCA and UK police against online child sexual exploitation.

Barnardo’s has told us that in the last six months of 2016, nearly half of the children it had supported had been groomed online — that is 297 children. Of these 182 had met their online groomer and suffered sexual abuse. So those are some of the statistics. But let me put a human face, a child’s face, to them.

Breck Bednar, from Surrey, was a 14-year-old who loved technology and gaming online, who his mother said never swore or yelled.

An excellent student and brother to three younger siblings, triplets who looked up to him and adored him.

But it was through this gaming that in 2014 he was groomed and lured to his death — suffering a sexual assault and fatal stab wound, miles from home, at the predator’s flat.

The grief of his parents is unfathomable. They do such important work now, warning of online dangers, through The Breck Foundation, set up in their son’s memory to make everyone aware how to keep safe online through education and empowerment.

Predatory paedophiles will try to approach vulnerable children (the average age of a child groomed online is 13) by, for example, chatting on a forum connected with a game application, or making an approach through Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp.

Then there are other sites like MyLoL — which disturbingly markets itself as a “teenage dating application” and allows anyone aged 13 to 25 to sign up.

There is virtual reality too. Earlier this year a man pleaded guilty to attempting to engage in sexual activity with children on at least 500 occasions.

His chosen conduit was MovieStarPlanet — a popular website for children to pretend to be film stars in a virtual world.

With the initial approach, there might be an accompanying message, perhaps about the victim’s profile picture, seeking to establish a rapport, which the offender will then exploit to eventually elicit indecent images of the child.

Having approached the child on one social networking site, the offender will then often intentionally and systemically move from one online platform to another, switching to “private” one-to-one communication methods such as Skype or live video chat services including Periscope.

All of us — parents, law enforcement, schools, peers — have a role to play in keeping our children safe online.

Government has given a further £20million over three years through the Police Transformation Fund to law enforcement working undercover online in forums and chatrooms, to identify and disrupt the threat of online grooming. I recently visited our Regional and Organised Crime Unit to see this essential work myself.

But it is with absolute urgency that I call on internet companies to also go further and also go faster in tackling online child sexual abuse.

We need them to bring their resources and technical expertise to help us turn the tide on this horrendous scourge. It is their moral duty.

We have worked closely with industry as they have found ways to identify and take down child abuse images through the “digital fingerprint” created of these images. This is incredibly important, and we need to turn the heat up under it.

So, we know that when industry innovates and collaborates, solutions are possible. We need them to do exactly the same in finding ways to interrupt that journey between abuser and victim.

None of us ever want another family to have to go through what Breck’s did.

First published in the Falmouth Wave

Combating Online Child Sexual Exploitation

The National Crime Agency (NCA) tells me that child sexual exploitation is quite simply one of the most harmful threats that we face.

Each month, there are over 400 arrests and over 500 children being protected through coordinated action by the NCA and UK police against online child sexual exploitation.

Predatory paedophiles will try to approach children (the average age of a child groomed online is 13) by, for example, chatting on a forum connected with a game application, or making an approach through Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp.  Then there are other sites like MyLoL – which disturbingly markets itself as a ‘teenage dating application’ for 13-25 year olds.  There is virtual reality too; earlier this year a man pleaded guilty to attempting to engage with sexual activity with a child on at least 500 occasions.  His chosen conduit was ‘MovieStarPlanet’ – a popular site for children to pretend to be film stars in a virtual world.

With the initial approach, there might be an accompanying message, perhaps about the victim’s profile picture, seeking to establish a rapport, which the offender will then exploit to elicit indecent images of the child.  Having approached the child on one social networking site, the offender will then often intentionally and systemically move from online platform to another, switching to ‘private’ one-to-one communication methods like Skypeor live-stream video chat, like Periscope.

All of us – parents, law enforcement, schools, peers – have a role to play in keeping our children safe online.

Government has given a further £20 million through the Police Transformation Fund to law enforcement working undercover online in forums and chatrooms, to identify and disrupt the threat of online grooming.

The Internet companies, working with government have helped find some solutions but they now need to go much further and faster.

First published in the West Briton

Tackling Modern Slavery

Just over two years since the Prime Minister’s landmark Modern Slavery Act came into force, Anti-Slavery Day represents an ideal opportunity to assess just how far we have come in our fight against this horrendous crime.

Impressive progress has been made in raising awareness of this barbaric crime and sending a resounding message that the UK will not tolerate the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Three years ago this scourge was firmly restricted to the shadows; the term ‘modern slavery’ was hardly in the public consciousness, while it remained a brutal reality for thousands of people living all around us – often exploited in plain sight.

Today you would struggle to find someone who couldn’t name an example of this appalling crime – from a domestic servant, to a young man or woman forced to work for many hours at a car wash for little to no pay. We as a country are now painfully aware of the suffering being inflicted every day. And thankfully we are seeing new prosecutions brought each month and thousands of innocent victims protected.

But the problem is far from solved and it is not going to be without further action to develop our knowledge about this appalling crime and adjust our response accordingly. Earlier this year, the Home Office undertook a comprehensive analysis of the nature of modern slavery in the UK. We were already ahead of most countries in producing a rigorous assessment of the scale of the issue in the country – with an estimated 10,000-13,000 potential victims – but we also wanted to know more about the nature of the crime, to help build on the very limited evidence base around it.

Our research, published recently, identified 17 distinct types of modern slavery under four broad groups – domestic servitude, sexual, labour and criminal exploitation. This includes British children being groomed and subsequently enslaved by urban gangs to bring illegal drugs to people in Cornwall and around the country, collecting the money and returning.

This knowledge, while shocking, is essential to developing the best possible response to this terrible crime. We will use it to improve our understanding of how to prevent people falling into slavery. And it will help us to develop further guidance for front-line workers, and to help banks and other institutions identify patterns of behaviour so they can disrupt these predators and help us further raise awareness of this terrible form of abuse.

But no matter what we do to eradicate the sickening and inhuman crimes associated with modern slavery here in the UK, true success can only be achieved by looking beyond our own borders and taking the fight onto the global stage.

In 2015 world leaders agreed a new set of universal goals and targets which all countries need to strive for to achieve sustainable development, and the UK successfully pushed for a target on eradicating human trafficking, modern slavery, forced labour and child labour. And in September this year during a Meeting of the UN General Assembly, 37 countries endorsed the Prime Minister’s call to action. At the same time the UK pledged to double its aid spending on modern slavery to £150m.

This includes £33.5m funding towards achieving that goal by targeting it in high-risk countries, from where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

Last year the Prime Minister announced £5m of this funding to address modern slavery in Nigeria, and today I am pleased to announce that we will be investing £3m to tackle the issue in Vietnam, from where we know so many victims are trafficked with the promise of a better life, only to find themselves enslaved in brothels, cannabis factories or nail bars.

This money will help to catch offenders, support victims and stop people falling into slavery in the first place.

The Prime Minister’s Modern Slavery Taskforce is driving forward the domestic and global response, and just this week agreed improvements to the National Referral Mechanism, the system we use to identify and support victims in this country.

Those who would profit from modern slavery, are finding it more challenging to ply their despicable trade today than at the start of 2015 – while in the UK victims have a world-leading support network.

But we are under no illusion that this is a fight that will be won quickly or easily. it is vital that we continue to develop our knowledge, to adapt our tactics, put invest both locally and globally and, most importantly, put victims at the heart of everything we do if we are to truly consign slavery to the history books.

First published in the Falmouth Wave

Domestic abuse survivor praises Emmerdale for its powerful Rhona storyline

Rhona Goskirk’s recent domestic abuse storyline in Emmerdale moved many viewers. Here, domestic abuse survivor Mandy Thomas, explains why she’s thankful the soap tackled such a sensitive subject…

51-year-old Mandy Thomas is an artist, writer, and mum-of-four. She’s also a Survivor’s Ambassador for Women’s Aid, after surviving 18 years of horrific abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.

“I suffered every kind of abuse imaginable at the hands of my ex, including horrific physical attacks,” Mandy explained. “My eldest son even saw his father take a blow torch to me.”

And now Mandy – whose son Jahméne Douglas won the nation’s heart when he took part in The X Factor in 2012 – has praised Emmerdale for raising awareness about the horrors of domestic violence through Rhona Goskirk’s story.

“Hats off to the Emmerdale scriptwriters and actors for tackling such a sensitive subject,” she enthused.

“Storylines such as Rhona’s not only raise awareness about the different kinds of abuse – from verbal, to coercive control and physical – but also help victims know that they’re not alone.”

Although the dramatic scenes of Rhona being raped on her wedding night were clearly powerful, for Mandy, it was the more recent court scenes which really struck a chord.

“My heart was in pieces for Rhona,” she explained. “I was pleading for her to get justice, as so many do not.”

Talking about her own experiences, Mandy told us: “My trial went on for a year and my children were dragged through the court, as my ex pleaded not guilty. In the end, he was sentenced to 15 years (six for rape and nine for GBH with intent and false imprisonment).”

However tragically, that wasn’t the end of Mandy’s ordeal. Her ex-husband was released from jail early after serving just six years, and shortly after her son Daniel took his own life.

“We still live in an era where people are unaware about what goes on behind closed doors,” Mandy explained.

“It’s so important that TV shows like Emmerdale show exactly what victims of domestic abuse have to go through to get justice.”

Mandy isn’t the only person who’s been impressed by Emmerdale’s work. Sarah Newton, Minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, echoed Mandy’s comments, saying: “I welcome Emmerdale raising awareness of domestic abuse to millions of people.

“More abusers than ever are being brought to justice, but with so many people still suffering from this horrendous crime it is clear there is more to do.”

What is the UK government doing to tackle domestic abuse?

The Domestic Abuse bill

The UK government recently introduced the landmark Domestic Abuse bill, which will help them to protect and support victims, recognise the life-long impact domestic abuse has on children, and make sure agencies effectively respond to domestic abuse. This will include measures to:

  • Enshrine a definition of domestic abuse in law
  • Create a consolidated new domestic abuse prevention and protection order regime
  • Make sure that if abusive behaviour involves a child, that the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child
  • Establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, to stand up for victims and survivors, raise public awareness, monitor the response of statutory agencies and local authorities and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse
  • Demonstrate our commitment to the Istanbul Convention by extending our extra-territorial jurisdiction over Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG) related offences to ratify the Convention.

Coercive or controlling behaviour offence

A new coercive or controlling behaviour offence came into force in December 2015. It carries a maximum five years imprisonment, a fine or both. Guidance for professionals on the new offence was also launched at the same time. The offence means victims who experience coercive and controlling behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, can bring their perpetrators to justice.

Justice for victims

In the year ending March 2017 the police recorded 464,886 domestic-abuse related offences – a 10% increase over the 421,185 offences recorded the previous year. This increase is likely to be due to improvements in crime recording and more victims coming forward to report crimes to the police.

More perpetrators of domestic abuse than ever have been brought to justice with the highest volume of prosecutions and convictions ever recorded. There have been year on year improvements for domestic violence prosecutions and in 2015-16 the volume of prosecutions rose to 100,930, the highest ever recorded. The volume of convictions in 2015-16 reached 75,235, also the highest ever recorded.

Funding and projects

Earlier this month the Home Secretary announced a £17million Violence Against Women and Girls Fund.

More than 40 projects will share the money to help prevent violence against women and girls.

If you or a friend or family member need support, you can contact the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge) on: 0808 2000 247

First published in Closer Magazine August 2017