The 2nd floor at the Central Criminal Court will forever have a special place in my heart and for those of you who know me, no, I am not referring to the café. It is home to a unique group of people, who in my opinion, are more important, more significant than any Judge, prosecutor or defence counsel who attends the Old Bailey. You will have all seen them. They are there every day and they go about their business quietly and largely unnoticed but the court could not operate without them.
I refer to Linda Harlow and her amazing team of volunteers from the Witness Service. These unsung heroes support not only the victim’s families but prosecution and defence witnesses alike in addition to children and vulnerable witnesses.
I had heard of the Witness Service and had some dealings with them across the various Courts I had attended across London but was largely ignorant as to what they actually did. I thought it was simply a case of escorting a witness to and from the Court to give evidence. How wrong I was.
In 2012 my family and I spent four and a half weeks at the Old Bailey for trial of the woman who killed my mum Sally. It is not an experience I would ever wish to repeat yet strangely enough, I do look back upon those four and a half weeks with immense fondness. I witnessed first hand the volunteers from the Witness Service at work. I saw them share the burden of victims and witnesses grief and trauma. I saw them offer comfort and support to those in their darkest hour. A service all delivered with a smile and an unwavering passion for what they do. A service very much undervalued and overlooked by many but most importantly a service which is free. A Safe Haven.
It was a privilege to see these amazing folk at work. My family and I cannot thank them enough for how we were treated and looked after and we are no different to the hundreds of families, witnesses and children who come through the doors at the Old Bailey each year.
Each year since my mum’s death we have held a memorial football match at Welling United Football Club. Read media coverage of last year’s event HERE) To date we have raised over 35k for charitable causes. In 2013 we donated a substantial amount to the Witness Service along with the family of Elouise Littlewood to help renovate the witness rooms at the Old Bailey. Now the waiting area and rooms are almost unrecognisable to those that were there in 2012.
However, the job is not quite finished…
This years Charity game will be held at Welling United on 7 May with a 3pm kick off. We are raising money for the Witness Service at the Old Bailey and a Charity called Hundred Families of which I am a Trustee.
Hundred families: http://www.hundredfamilies.org/
Hundred Families is a small charity that receives no Government funding. We provide practical support, information, and advocacy services throughout Britain for families who have lost loved ones as a result of killings by people with mental illness. We work with the Criminal Justice System and the Health Service to secure meaningful improvements for victims’ families and the way in which they are treated. We provide research, training and evidence based resources to mental health professionals and policy makers to try and prevent such killings from happening in future. This year we produced a Practical Guide for families after mental health homicide. This guide is available to download free from our website or free in hard copy upon request.
If anyone would like to come along to the Football match on Saturday 7 May 2016 please feel free. Everyone is welcome and it is a good family day out. There is also a raffle held after the game. If anyone would like to advertise in the programme, buy raffle tickets or simply make a donation please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can donate by text. For example to buy 5 raffle tickets just text HUND43 £5 to 70070just text HUND43 £5 to 70070
To donate to the Witness Service or ensure your donation is made available specifically for the benefit of witnesses and bereaved families at the Central Criminal Court please
• make a cheque payable to Citizens Advice and send it to:
Citizens Advice Witness Service, Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey , London EC4M 7EH
Send the cheque with a covering letter stating you wish the donation to be allocated specifically for use by the Witness Service at the Central criminal Court, the Old Bailey and the funds will then be allocated for their use only.
Finally, next time you are at the Old Bailey and you find yourself on the 2nd floor about to go into the café spare a thought for the amazing unsung heroes right next door.
Len Hodkin Len Hodkin is a solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors, and Trustee for Hundred Families Charity.
In Memory of Sally Hodkin
Sally Hodkin worked as the accounts manager for a solicitors practice in Blackheath. She was wife to Paul Hodkin for 38 years, Mum to two sons Len and Ian, and a loving grandmother.