If you have a smart phone, please download and use the Self Evident app. It's free, simple and really useful. You won't regret it.
Whether or not you have a smart phone, below is Guidance on what you can do if you witness violent crime. If after reading it, you remain unsure whether to talk to the police and would first like some confidential advice, please contact us.
- walk-on-by, as it could be you or one of your family or friends next time 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. The Self Evident app has a one touch call button.
- 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 stands up, others will usually follow or help.
- 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.
- Use the Self Evident app to record the scene, statements or, if it's safe, the suspects. The more of us who use the app or our phones and cameras in these circumstances, the more likely an assailant will be deterred.
- As soon as it’s safe to tend the victim, please do so or make sure that someone else is.
- If you cannot hang around to wait for the police to arrive, use the Self Evident app. If you haven't got the app, leave your name and a contact number with the victim, someone tending them or the ambulance crew if you have any useful evidence
- Encourage other witnesses to do the same.
- If you don't have the Self Evident app and you’re not familiar with the area, make a note of the road and any notable building so you can easily recall where you were.
- Whether you saw or just heard anything significant, 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. Again, best use the Self Evident App as it has guidance on your statement and validates your evidence.
- It’s your record of what you saw or heard at the time, so 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 know.
- If you took a photo with your camera or phone at the time, mention this.
- If you don;t have the app, 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 left out something important or have made a mistake, don’t worry. This is very simple if you have the app. If not, make an additional record adding or correcting the point, take a copy and keep them with the originals.
If you have any useful evidence, our advice is (a) record and report it with the Self Evident app, and (b) if you can, stay at the scene and talk to the police when they arrive at the scene.
If neither of these options apply to you, (i) you can visit the local station, (ii) you can use this link to find the local neighbourhood police team that covers the area where the attack happened and tell them you would like to be in put in touch with the investigating officer, or (iii) you can contact the police by dialing 101 (calls are charged a flat rate of 15p).
If you're not using the Self Evident app - which records the officers initially handling your case - 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 you have information that might be helpful to the police but you don't want to be 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 – you can 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 assure you that, contrary to the widely held perception, they are 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 section on witnesses. For 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. But again, these are all reasons why you're better off using the Self Evident app.
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 used by defence counsel as arguments why the witness is unreliable and 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. 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 that 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, Citizens Advice 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 around 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. The Self Evident app is a promising and practical solution to this problem.
We hope this section gives you a good idea of what being a witness will involve and how you can minimize the fuss and help best manage the process. It also explains why we have developed the Self Evident app.