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The video system, which is operational at the police station in Central Avenue, spares witnesses the trauma of going to court if they feel threatened or too intimated to attend. Piloted in 2011, it has already been rolled out in Ashford and Swanley.
It was decided to open a third “suite” in Sittingbourne because of limited public transport to people from Sheppey who have to travel to Canterbury or Medway magistrates’ courts.
Speaking at Thursday’s official opening, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes, said: “I firmly believe that victims should be at the heart of the criminal justice system and this new facility is a new piece of armour for them.”
The Live Link was first put to use in Sittingbourne last month. Deputy Chief Constable Paul Brandon said the suite not only provides a “safe and secure environment” for intimated witnesses and victims, it has a “multitude of uses”.
It also allows police to be issued with warrants from Maidstone Magistrates’ Court via video link. He said it means officers can be at a suspect’s house “within the hour”, rather than the four hours it sometimes takes.
Mr Brandon said in the short time it’s been operational in Sittingbourne, he’s noticed how victims are “very different in their demeanour” when interviewed via the suite, giving them the “ability to give really good evidence”.
It’s up to a judge to decide whether a witness can give evidence via live link. Family members can accompany victims to the station but are not allowed to sit in during a transmission to ensure evidence is not “unduly influenced”.
Mrs Barnes refuted a suggestion the process has a detrimental effect on open justice. She said: “I think victims who come to court don’t do it lightly, it’s not an easy place to be.
“If you’re the victim of a really, really horrible crime, whether it’s harassment or domestic abuse or sexual offences, you’re feeling very vulnerable, frightened and insecure.
“To be able to give your evidence to the court, but out of that environment, has got to be good for victims.”
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