An MLC is criticising the lack of a Sexual Assault Referral Centre on island, which has forced victims to travel to the UK without forensics taken from the body – which may result in strong evidence for court cases being lost.
Tanya August-Hanson was due to ask for an update on a replacement SARC during this month’s Tynwald after the update promised to Tynwald members in December wasn’t delivered – but as members chose not to end the Question Paper, it was never answered.
However, during a debate on the gov’s Covid response, she told members she had been contacted by the parent of an 18-month-old child, who had to wait a week for a referral to the North West of England – an area with a high number of Covid cases – for forensic evidence to be taken.
Miss August-Hanson said: ‘Following an alleged assault that took place in October last year: reported immediately to the police and social services, it took a week to organise their travelling across to the UK with police and a welfare officer. It is nonsensical that it took a full week before a mother and child were flown for forensic testing during a pandemic.
‘In all of that time, all of that evidence could have been lost, resulting in inconclusive examination results, which is exactly what happened, so these types of things which have not been dealt with thus far, have made a situation that perhaps would’ve been very difficult and hard, 10 times harder for victims and their families.
‘So I am hoping that before the end of this administration, we will see a very clear domestic abuse pathway and hopefully before the end of this administration, we will actually see a SARC so we don’t end up hearing stories like this, which are far worse during the pandemic, because they haven’t been dealt with.’
She told Gef that the Public Protection Unit has since said it has started taking clothing for testing on the island, but victims still travel over without forensics taken from the body, and without opportunity to wash, or even comb their hair. There is also a risk of key evidence, like matter under fingernails, being lost in transit – if they aren’t expected to wait for a week before they’re accompanied through departures at Ronaldsway Airport.
However the Justice and Home Affairs Minister, Graham Cregeen, has said he is ‘determined’ to resolve the situation as soon as possible.
In a letter to Miss August-Hanson, Mr Cregeen said he is ‘also frustrated at the lack of progress to date’, and said Covid had delayed the project, however, he is ‘encouraged’ by progress made in a short period of time since the DHSC and DHA were successful in their bid for funding from Treasury in 2019.
Mr Cregeen added: ‘We have identified a site and work is underway to secure a firm handover date. Again, unfortunately, the progress has been hampered by the recent lockdown. The proposed site will require little in the way of clinical refurbishment. This means the majority of our capital budget can be allocated to clinical equipment and other facilities. We have a detailed project implementation plan and a first draft layout has been shared with clinicians and other colleagues to ensure the design is workable in practice. We had hoped to go to tender for a contractor by the end of this month, but we have been subject to delay due to Covid. Nonetheless, I am still hopeful that the site will be completed by July/August this year.’
He added: ‘It is not acceptable that victims of sexual assault should have to travel to the UK for a forensic examination, but we must acknowledge that our island context provides a number of challenges to overcome. Victims of sexual assault in the Isle of Man deserve better facilities here and I am determined to make that happen.’
Plans for an on-island facility were drawn up four years ago by the Sexual Assault Referral Service Stakeholder Group, which includes: Dr Henrietta Ewart and the Chief Constable, Gary Roberts. Despite this, the government is still yet to deliver on this vital service for Manx victims.