When Crimestoppers was launched 23 years ago, it was founded on the basic principle that anyone passing on information about crime or criminals should be entitled to anonymity.
Today that principle will be extended when Crimestoppers, the only charity in the UK that helps to solve crime, launches a new joint project to enable prisoners to pass on information anonymously from inside their jails.
Crimestoppers has teamed up with the Ministry of Justice’s National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to put together a system that will allow offenders to dial a special pin number from inside their prisons. This will, in turn, prevent their call to Crimestoppers being monitored by the police authorities and thereby give prisoners confidence that they are not endangering their own safety when they pass on potentially useful information.
Some will consider it controversial to allow prisoners access to a special facility that enables them to provide information on crime and, in some cases, even to pick up a modest reward for passing on such information.
However, as the Founder and Chairman of the Trustees of Crimestoppers, my view on this issue is simple: we should welcome any information that helps to solve, and indeed prevent, crime. If a criminal, whatever his (or her) motivation, wants to provide information on another criminal’s activities that has to be a good thing for the public.
It would be wrong for Crimestoppers – and eventually the police – to be “judgemental”: to give more or less weight to genuine information simply on the basis of whether it comes from someone of good, or less good, character.
It is perhaps inevitable that, because of the company they mix in, some criminals will often know more about crime than law-abiding citizens. If they choose to share this inside knowledge – through Crimestoppers – with the authorities, then so much the better.
The system that is being launched today has been put together with the support of prisoner focus groups and it is hoped that it will increase the amount of useful information received by Crimestoppers from the prison population.
In particular, it is hoped that the new pin system will help to tackle problems occurring inside prisons, which include the trafficking of drugs from the outside and mobile phones being used as currency. The phones are being used to intimidate witnesses and to order drugs.
A pilot scheme for the system was run in a Yorkshire prison in 2007 and generated a positive response, while a similar scheme has also been running in Scotland since September 2008, again with strong results.
This new system is intended to allow anonymity for those that are calling, while also reinforcing that Crimestoppers is not a part of the police or the prison authorities.
Crimestoppers came about following the brutal murder of Pc Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riots of October 1985. The murder of the 40 year-old father of three – hacked to death as he carried out his duties on the streets of north London – sickened me and I was determined to do something about it, with the help of the police.
Eventually Crimestoppers was launched in the Metropolitan Police area in 1988 (then, however, the charity went under a different name: Community Action Trust).
As I have made clear, anonymity was, and is, the key to the success of the scheme. Callers are not required to identify themselves, their calls cannot be traced and individuals know they will never be forced to appear as a witness in a trial.
This has meant that those with knowledge about crime have been willing to share it with police. Crimestoppers tries to break down the wall of silence that surrounds most crimes and which the criminals exploit to avoid arrest.
Crimestoppers relies on a three-way partnership between the business community, the police and the media. Businesses put up money to finance the scheme, the police are willing to act on information from the public and the media highlight the charity’s work.
The key to Crimestoppers success over the past 23 years has been its ability to move with the times and to take advantage of new technology and fresh initiatives. I am confident that the new project launched today will be another useful tool in our on-going attempts to tackle crime.
Crimestoppers operates a 24/7 telephone number – 0800 555 111 – which anyone can use to pass on information. The public can also access the charity’s “giving information” form through its website.