Andy Burnham has announced a new victim support hotline to take calls from people unhappy with the way Greater Manchester Police is dealing with their reported crime, in the wake of a blistering inspection report.
The mayor said the line – operational from next week – would not be for reporting new offences, but would be a way of tracking complaints and will feed into planned improvements for the force as a whole.
Speaking almost a week after Her Majesty’s Inspectorate warned GMP’s crime recording had deteriorated and that it was not doing enough to protect vulnerable victims, especially those who have suffered violence, Mr Burnham insisted there was a context for the findings.
Both he and his deputy, Beverley Hughes, said that during the period in question the force was struggling with new Covid legislation and staff absence, as well as extra pressures in helping out with the general humanitarian response.
The mayor also said that the inspectorate ‘revealed a picture that is not available on an ongoing basis to us, given the depth and detail with which they looked into things’.
But ultimately he was ‘accountable’ for putting the situation right, he added.
Part of that would come in the form of a new hotline for the kind of people HMI believe may be slipping through the net.
“Until we’ve got all the internal actions in place of course we can’t yet be fully confident that every victim of crime is getting the service that we would want them to have,” he said.
“And that is why I have asked for a new hotline to be stood up, which will be provided by our partners Victim Support.
“This will be operational from early next week.”
The phone number, which will be revealed in the coming days, ‘is not to report crime’, he emphasised.
“We would say to the public they must go through the usual channels to report crime in the normal way.
“This is a specific service for anyone in Greater Manchester who feels that their crime hasn’t been properly recorded and they haven’t been properly supported in making their report.
“It’s an alternative route for people to go to if they feel the service has not been that it should have been.”
Beverley Hughes said that she and the mayor would be meeting with the author of the inspectorate report, Zoe Billingham, by the end of the week to discuss their emerging improvement plan.
A meeting with Home Office minister has already taken place and was ‘very constructive’, she said.
The minister, Kit Malthouse, had offered help – such as expert peer support – and they were now considering what they might need.
Meanwhile, a centralised recording unit introduced before the pandemic, which had to be suspended at its height, has already made significant progress and is now being stood up further, she said.
GMP has also established a gold command structure to oversee the improvement plan, with a taskforce sitting behind it, including a member of the mayor’s office.
Last week’s report from HMI about GMP’s handling of victims made for damning reading, finding that the force’s performance had deteriorated significantly since 2018 – warning more than one in four violent offences are now not being recorded, with investigations often delayed or poorly planned.
The safeguarding of vulnerable victims was also flagged as a particular concern.
Beverley Hughes said immediate steps were therefore being taken ‘to give momentum’ to improvements, although she cited a number of issues that placed the inspection in context.
The period looked at by the inspector – April to June 2020 – was a ‘very, very difficult time’ for the force, she said.
“They had recently-introduced Covid legislation to respond to, and that meant thinking about implementation, interpretation, training, right across the whole of the organisation; a significant impact on the capacity of the whole of GMP by people having to self isolate; reduced capacity, particularly in the newly introduced central crime recording and resolution unit; and at the same time as all of that, the impact on capacity and capability significantly increased demand in response to Covid-19 legislation.”
Officer rest days and leave were cancelled due to the pressures, she added.
But, she said: “This isn’t at all to detract from the seriousness with which we regard this.”
Today’s press conference came as news emerged that the Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins, is currently off sick due to a condition called labyrinthitis, which affects hearing and balance.
The mayor said Mr Hopkins was in touch with senior command, however, and there was ‘no suggestion’ he would be off for a long period of time.
Thanking police officers for their work throughout 2020, he concluded of the report that there had already been improvements since its publication.
“We are confident that in just a small number of days, significant progress has been made,” he said.
“I will be ultimately accountable for putting this right.”