THE BLOG

Communities Must Pull Together in Wake of Woolwich Murder

26/05/2013 23:03 BST | Updated 26/07/2013 10:12 BST
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So terrorism has reared its terrible head again this week with the sickening events in Woolwich. Our thoughts go out to drummer Lee Rigby's family - the pain they are suffering must be unimaginable.

I was walking those same streets in Woolwich just two days before and I wonder how long it will be before they seem that normal again.

This murder is a reminder too of how damaging a crime can be to the wider community.

I get the train into work and as a proud British Muslim with a family I am not afraid to admit that seeing the story in the morning papers made me uneasy - just as I felt uneasy after the 7/7 bombings.

The men who did this were not following the teachings of Islam and it goes without saying that Muslims must not be persecuted as a result.

Any attempted backlash through English Defence League rallies and attacks on mosques is clearly not the answer.

Society must work together in times like these to see that justice is done and the law upheld.

I had been in Woolwich to visit the crown court there - the same court where those accused of terrorism offences stand trial because of its high security.

I was there having lunch with a number of high-profile judges. We were talking about how to make the criminal justice system more responsive to the needs of victims.

We know that across the country more than 50% of trials do not start on the day they are scheduled - leaving thousands of disgruntled victims and witnesses feeling like the system has let them down.

The judges were explaining that if a key witness is absent it can put the whole process back - even if everyone else is present.

This can obviously be frustrating but the judges themselves were adamant that victims must be treated with the respect they deserve, which was good to hear.

I also dropped in on our Witness Service there.

Their desk is the first thing you see after you go through the barriers at reception and it can be a beacon of light for victims and witnesses in what can be a very frustrating and intimidating process.

I met one of Victim Support's new volunteers there, a middle-aged man who had recently retired from the police.

I saw him in action and he was rushed off his feet - but in a good way. He told me he's getting a real kick out of the work he is doing. It was great to hear.

He and two colleagues were running the show across 12 courtrooms - no mean feat when cases were starting at various times throughout the day. It was amazing to watch.

Without volunteers like him court can be an even more traumatic experience for victims who are already going through an ordeal that is no fault of their own.

One thing victims tell us time and time again is they want a voice in the criminal justice system.

Victim Personal Statements are a huge part of this. They are not about influencing sentencing but they do give victims the chance to explain how a crime has affected them.

We know from experience these statements can have a positive impact. They give victims a platform to state their feelings for the record and prevent them from being marginalised in proceedings where only the defendant and the State are represented.

One day Lee Rigby's family may get the chance to tell a court how his murder and its shocking circumstances affected them.

It is the very least that they deserve.