Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

Sophie's dad: We need a Victims' Commissioner

Sophie Kate Elliott was stabbed to death. Her father says a Victims' Commissioner is needed in NZ.
Sophie Kate Elliott was stabbed to death. Her father says a Victims' Commissioner is needed in NZ.

The father of murder victim Sophie Elliott is backing a call for an independent commissioner to advocate for families of victims of crime.

Britain appointed its first Victims' Commissioner, Helen Newlove, in December last year - and she has already suggested changes that would make that country's parole system more transparent and inclusive of victims.

New Zealand's Red Raincoat Trust, which supports families of homicide victims, is calling for the appointment of a Victims' Commissioner here.

The move has the support of Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Gil Elliott, whose daughter Sophie was stabbed to death by Clayton Weatherston in 2008.

Mr Elliott said the Ministry of Justice's victims reference group, of which he is a member, has discussed the idea of a commissioner or ombudsman to help victims of crime.

He said a Victims' Commissioner could have helped to make his journey easier following his daughter's death.

Gil, Lesley and Nick Elliott, family of murdered woman Sophie Elliott. Photo / File / Simon Baker
Gil, Lesley and Nick Elliott, family of murdered woman Sophie Elliott. Photo / File / Simon Baker

A lot of people looked after victims, including Victim Support, but it would be helpful if there was one place to go to get advice, Mr Elliott said.

"It's very difficult often for victims to know exactly where they're going, because you become a victim immediately and you've never been in that position before," he said.

"Apart from all the trauma and grief and God knows what, you don't know where to go to get advice, or who's going to look after you - it just adds to the trauma."

Red Raincoat Trust spokeswoman Debbie Marlow said some agencies failed to adequately gauge the needs of victims because of the sensitive nature of homicide, which often led to misconceptions about what was required.

"New Zealand could easily appoint an independent Victims' Commissioner who could oversee the interaction between agencies and the victims, ensuring that their approach becomes more coordinated and consistent.

"It's a great idea and one that should be seriously considered here in New Zealand."

Justice Minister Judith Collins was not immediately available for comment.

- APNZ

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