Voices of victims unite

By Doug Laing

Walking the Sensible Sentencing Trust talk with organisation founder and Hawke's Bay farmer Garth McVicar may weary one-time reluctant campaigner Rita Croskery, but at the age of 78 she isn't giving up.

Speaking in Napier yesterday after the trust's latest annual victims' retreat, she restated the vow made to her son Michael Choy after he was murdered in 2001, that she would do whatever she could to make sure such tragedies would not happen again.

System support deficit was obvious almost from the very moment it happened, a few hours after the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the surrounding events known as 9/11.

As international travel came almost to a standstill, Mrs Croskery struggled to get home and was barely able to spend any time with her son, who'd been bashed to death in a robbery staged by six young people who lured him into a trap in his work delivering pizza.

Thus it was that she embarked on the search for help, and found it when she met Mr McVicar at a gathering he called in Auckland - "at McDonald's".

"I was looking for someone, something," she said. "I tried to get help from the local council. They weren't very helpful. I tried the Government, and they weren't very helpful.

"That first meeting at McDonald's ... I was very inspired with what they were doing. I signed on straight away, without having to go any further."

It was the spark of a meeting in Auckland that attracted more than 600 people outraged by the killing and other violence. Mrs Croskery surprised even herself when, after turning down Mr McVicar's invitation to do something she'd never done before in front of a crowd, she agreed.

She reflects now with pride: "I got up and spoke."

With the trust a well-established entity in for the long haul in contrast to the founding approach that suggested it would be around only as long as needed to change a few MPs in their way of thinking, it was with a pertinent theme: "Who speaks for the victim?"

An answer may have been that they all do, Mr McVicar noting the transformation of the grandmother he met in Auckland who has now on several occasions been to the seat of power in Wellington. And like others the organisation has grouped, she's invited, not "ostracised", the way it once felt.

"It has empowered them, all of them here," he said, interrupted by yet another hug as another group prepared to board the shuttle bus and head to the airport.

As they dispersed, several faces from high-profile tragedies of modern times, it was with news the organisation is now on a successional path, in which Mr McVicar will, at the age of 61, take a step back from his high-profile role challenging lawmakers on issues of bail, penalties and parole, all with the victim in mind ahead of criminals.

"A new national spokesman will be named within three months," he said, but he will remain, as a chief executive officer charged with finding and maintaining financial support of the type that funded the weekend for the victims who had travelled from Dunedin to Whangarei to the gathering at Napier's Kennedy Park holiday complex.

There was no government funding, and no big dollars from corporates, he said. "We're funded by mums and dads, people with $5 here, $10 there ... I think the biggest individually would be no more than $1000."

Once an issue, the lack of government funding has enabled it to be an advocate, complementing a role of Victim Support, which has been government funded, and which was represented during the weekend by chief executive Tony Paine, a guest speaker along with Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford and Ross Pinkham, recently retired as a police detective inspector.

Mr Rutherford reflected a now-evolving view that bureaucrats and politicians cannot know how it feels, without hearing from the victims, and told them: "Nothing changes in the world without people like you. People with lived experiences are the experts that need to be listened to."

Mr Pinkham, involved with numerous homicides in his 42 years' service, told of a new police Victim Focus strategy "roll-out" from October 1, elevating the place of victims while maintaining the core job of bringing criminals to justice.

"One area of policing that I have found that the police have been remiss on over the years is maintaining contact with the victims of crime," he said, but noted later that there were some in the gathering who might at times of inquiries close to them have felt a shift from them as a witness to a possible suspect.

A response regime is being established to deal with the differing circumstances that evolve, including help to facilitate methods for the safety and security of those victimised by crimes around them.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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