Here you'll find Guidance on what you can do if you witness violent crime. If you are an independent witness to a violent or serious crime and your evidence could be important so we hope the Guidance will encourage you to contact the police. If you remain unsure whether to talk to the police and would first like some confidential advice, read on.
Please let us know how you think this Guidance can be improved.
- walk-on-by, as it could be you or one of your family or friends next time
- wade in and be ‘a-have-a-go-hero’ unless you are really sure what you are doing.
- if it looks serious, ring 999 without delay.
- shout ‘stop’, ‘help’ or ‘police’ as this can bring people to their senses before any real damage is done. As it also alerts others nearby it is an effective way to get people to help.
- remember, if and when there are other people around, that when one of us stands up, others mostly will follow.
- back up someone else who is being a good citizen or who calls for help when they witness violent crime. It’s not just about safety in numbers but giving a clear message that we won’t tolerate violent streets.
- take a photo or film with your mobile or camera of the assailant or the scene, if you feel you can without jeopardising your own safety. The more of us who use our phones and cameras in these circumstances, the better the chance the assailant will turn and flee and the better the evidence.
- As soon as it’s safe to tend the victim, please do so or check that someone else is.
- If you cannot hang around to wait for the police to arrive, leave your name and a contact number with the victim, someone tending them or the ambulance crew if you have some useful evidence and are willing to show support. And if it covers your area, use StreetViolence.org to get in touch with the right police team.
- Encourage other witnesses to do the same.
- If you’re not familiar with the area, make a note of the road and any notable site, shop or building so you can easily recall your bearings. If it’s easy to find a postcode from a neighbour or nearby business, do. If not, check Google maps or Google street view as soon as you can so you have a clear record.
- If you saw or heard what happened, make a record as soon as you can unless you’ve already given a statement to the police. The record can be in writing, verbally on a mobile phone, to a video camera or it can be dictated to someone else.
- It’s your record of what you saw or heard at the time. So while you can check the location or scene on Google maps or street view, don’t check or agree your record with any other witness first.
- The record should include the date and time of the event and the location, including where you were (e.g. across the road, in a shop). Describe what you saw or heard as best you can. Be as clear as you can about the number of assailants and their description (e.g. approx age, height, colour, build, sex, and anything distinctive about their clothes or features).
- If a car was involved, include the registration number, the make, colour and model if you can.
- If you took a photo with your camera or phone at the time, mention this.
- When you’re done, remember to include the date and time you are making the record. Make a copy of your record and any photo and keep them safe.
- If over the next few days you realise you have omitted something significant or have made a mistake, don’t worry. Simply make an additional record adding or correcting the point, take a copy and keep them with the originals.
Click here for the official advice for witnesses and for reporting crime. This has been improved since the time of our launch but there is still some way to go to make it a practical and helpful guide for people who witness crimes.
If you have any useful evidence, our advice is that (a) if you can stay at the scene and talk to the police when they arrive, and if not, (b) use the street violence map if it covers your area or (c) if you rang 999 at the time, the police will have your contact deatils. If, however, none of these options apply, the police won't know who you are or that you might have some helpful information, so our advice is to contact the local police for the area where the crime occurred or your own. As the official advice suggests, you can visit the local station but we would only endorse this if you have a lot of time on your hands. Rather we suggest that you use this link to find the local neighbourhood police team that covers the area where the attack happened and tell them when and where the attack happened and say you would like to speak to the investigating officer. If you cannot find the relevant team, use the website to contact your own local team and ask them to put you in touch with the right officers.
Please note that as some forces uses 0845 numbers to raise revenue, it can be cheaper to make the initial contact by email.
It’s helpful to keep a note of the names of the officers you deal with and it’s polite to let them know you are doing this.
If the only information you have can be helpful to the police without you being involved further – e.g. you have the registration number of the car the attacker was using or you happen to know the attacker by name or know his address – then if you don't want to talk to the officer handling the case, please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or through their website and they will be able to pass on the information without identifying you. Crimestoppers has asked us to point out that, contrary to the perception of many, they are an independent charity and not part of the police and that they will not ask for, keep or pass on any personal details.
The Crown Prosecution Service does have an informative and engaging section on witnesses and we recommend that to anyone who wants to understand the process ahead of them. In terms of violent crimes and anxieties about whether to report, we think the article on that site aimed at young people Jerome's Story is both realistic and helpful.
When you speak to the investigating officer, tell them what you saw or heard and whether you have made your own record. They will decide whether to ask you to make a formal statement. Even where the attack has been reported and the police are dealing with it efficiently, in many cases and for many reasons the police may not need to take a formal statement from every witness. If that does happen to you, please don't be put off. If you don't understand why, ask them. And anyway from the rest of us, thank you for contacting them and showing willing - you will be making a difference.
If you agree to give a formal statement, it will normally be taken in writing by a police officer or very occasionally on video. The police will try to find a time that is convenient to you to take the statement and, if you wish, you can ask that this be done in your own home. You are allowed to be accompanied by a friend or supporter – provided they are not a witness themselves – when you make your statement. If you would like to be accompanied it's a good idea to tell the officer in advance.
It is important that any formal statement you sign is accurate as (a) you cannot withdraw it, (b) you will not see a copy of it again until you arrive at court, and (c) if there are differences between the statement and what you subsequently say in court, these may be used to question the reliability of your evidence. If you are not entirely happy with the written statement the officer has taken (either in long hand at the interview or as a summary from a recorded interview), you should not hesitate to say so and explain why.
Remember it is your statement, not the officer’s, and if you don’t ensure it reflects your account accurately, you may be criticised later if there is any difference between your statement and what you say in court. Apart from any embarrassment this may cause you, such inconsistencies are often be used by defence counsel as arguments why the defendant should be acquitted. This is one reason why making your own record as soon as possible is a good idea as the police officer will want to ensure the formal statement is not inconsistent with that.
When the officer takes a statement, he or she is meant to give you a copy of the helpful brochure Giving a statement to the police - what happens next?. If it's convenient, you can save the officer time by printing your own copy first. Either way, make sure they fill in the form on page 9 with the case reference number and their name and contact details - ask for their mobile phone number so you are not stuck in a call waiting system. The fact is having a single and easy point of contact is a real reassurance if and when things go forward.
If you are anxious that there are some police officers who may - through force of habit - treat a witness rather like they treat a suspect, the good news is that the police and the CPS are now expected to treat all witnesses fairly and with respect under the Witness Charter.
Most witnesses who make formal statements don’t get to give their evidence in court. This will usually be because (a) the suspect pleads guilty, (b) the witness’s evidence is not disputed in which case it is read or summarised to the court, or (c) other scientific or witness evidence covers the same point more strongly. Other reasons the witness may not give evidence in court are that the suspect is not caught, the case is cleared up in some other way or the evidence is not strong enough (to find out more about how this may happen, see the CPS information on the Decision to Charge).
If and when the suspect is charged, you can expect to be contacted by the relevant Witness Care Unit which will liaise with you on dates and any arrangements or support you may need and on any special measures that may be needed to protect your identity. Even though the Witness Care Unit will be supportive, most witnesses find that the officer who took their statement or who was their main contact at the time will remain their best source of help.
If you want to find out more about going to court and what it involves for witnesses, there’s an excellent official video. The Crown Prosecution Service also has helpful information on Going to Court.
For those witnesses who are going to court, Victim Support offers help and information for witnesses through its Witness Service. There’s a Witness Service in each court and they can provide friendly support and a quiet place to wait. Their volunteers can also help with expenses claims but they are unable to give advice or talk about your evidence.
While things are improving for witnesses who go to court, it is important that witnesses realise that approaching half of civilian witnesses who attend court do not actually get to give their evidence. In our policy work, we are considering ways this problem and the frustration it causes can be addressed in practice. A promising solution is to allow a witness' evidence that has been taken on video or digitally to be their main evidence in court as this means that they will only need to attend court if there are further questions they need to be asked. At present, this option is only available to certain categories of witnesses, such as vulnerable and young people but we see no reason why it should not be more generally available.
We hope this section gives you a good idea of what being a witness will involve and how you can minimise the fuss and help best manage the process. Remember we will all benefit if more of us are prepared to make a stand and, if it comes to it, to take the stand.