VICTIMS of violent crime in Wearside were paid almost £1million in compensation in one year – but questions have been raised about the fairness of the system.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) – set up to help victims of violent crime – paid £922,354 to 346 claimants in the SR postcode area in 2010/11.
The figures were uncovered in a Parliamentary question submitted by Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson, who is one of those concerned that the system is failing victims.
Ms Phillipson, a member of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, said: “I am concerned that there isn’t adequate scrutiny of the work of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.
“I have come across cases where people have been unfairly turned down for compensation. They have often been the victim of traumatic, violent offences and when they are refused compensation this further adds to the distress.
“They feel disbelieved and deeply upset. We need a rigorous system, but also one that understands the needs of victims of crime.”
Ms Phillipson’s remarks came after victims of rapist Stephen Mitchell, a former Northumbria Police officer, were refused CICA compensation.
She quizzed junior Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly on the issue with a series of House of Commons questions.
Mr Djanogly revealed that nationally 160,548 claimants had been turned down for compensation by CICA since 2006.
Of these, 10,094 had appealed to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel, with 3,531 successfully overturning the original decision.
The family of murdered dad Kevin Johnson were among those who had to fight for compensation after the 22-year-old was fatally stabbed outside his Pennywell home in 2007.
His parents John and Kath, from Ryhope, said CICA insulted Kevin’s memory by originally claiming he had contributed to his own death by leaving his house to remonstrate with three teenage thugs making a noise in the street.
CICA states it pays compensation to people who have been physically or mentally injured because they were the “blameless” victim of a violent crime.
John finally won compensation on his third attempt after a last-ditched plea to an independent tribunal hearing, where he was backed by Northumbria Police. He was granted £5,500 – half the maximum allowed by the Government.
Speaking at the time, he said: “It’s not really the money, it’s the way they blamed Kevin – muddying his name and his character. That’s what rankled with us.
“No amount of money they could ever give us would ever be enough for our Kevin. But they have got to put a price on it and £11,000 is the price that they put.
“When you take into context that an MP can claim more than that for a kitchen for his second home, it makes you sick.”
CICA, however, assured the Echo the organisation was dedicated to supporting victims.
A spokesman said: “We are determined to help vulnerable victims of crime.
“We do not comment on individual cases. A claim for compensation can be declined or an award reduced for a number of reasons including if a person has unspent criminal convictions.
“A decision will be based on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. If any applicant does not think their case was assessed fairly they may apply to have it reviewed.”