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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

If you witness a crime

If you're a witness to a crime, you shouldn’t be afraid to go the police or give evidence in court. There are laws and services to protect you. Find out what they are and how they can help you.

Reporting a crime

Call 999 if a crime is underway or has just happened

If a crime is underway or has just occurred, call 999.

In non-emergency situations you should usually contact the local police in the area where the crime has taken place. You can either go to the nearest police station with a front office open to the public, or call the local police directly.

If you don’t know which station to go to or to call, call your local force and ask them who to contact.

The officer answering your call will need to know:

  • the exact location where police are needed
  • why they are needed
  • your own name, although you are not required to give it
  • your telephone number

If you’re afraid to come forward

If you’ve witnessed a crime, you may be feeling upset or worried. You may have doubts about coming forward to the police or giving evidence in court.

No law says you have to report a crime to the police or give evidence. But remember, by coming forward you could bring a criminal to justice. You could also stop the same thing happening to others.

You can contact Victim Support, a charity that helps victims and witnesses, or other organisations for advice.

Giving your statement

Police may ask you to give a witness statement. This is a written or video-recorded account of what happened. It may be used as evidence in court, although normally witnesses who give evidence at a trial do so in person.

Children under 17, vulnerable adult witnesses and intimidated witnesses may have their statement video-recorded. However, in most cases the police officer will write an account of what you have said, which you will be asked to sign.

If the offence has just happened, officers may ask you to tour the area with them to help identify the perpetrator. They may also ask you to look at photographs to see if the crime suspect is a known criminal.

Once you have given your statement, you will be referred to a witness care officer. The witness care officer will help you if you have to go to court to give evidence.

Keeping your details private

The police will keep your details private. If you give a statement about a crime to the police, they will write down your address on the back of it. The defendant or their solicitor will only get a copy of the front, so they won’t see where you live.

Witnesses are not usually asked to give their address out loud in court.

Protecting you from threats and harassment

Tell the police if you're being threatened

It’s against the law to intimidate (threaten or bully) a witness or anyone else helping the police.

If you feel threatened in any way, at any time, tell your witness care officer or the police officer in charge of the case. If you’re seriously threatened, call 999.

You can get extra help if the offender has been caught, put in prison, released on bail or convicted. The court can make an order to stop them coming near you, threatening you or intimidating you again. If they carry on, they could face another offence and even be put into prison.

The police and the Crown Prosecution Service can protect your identity during the investigation and the early days of a trial. In some cases, they can even protect your identity during the trial itself.

'Witness relocation'

If the threat to you is very serious, it may be possible to relocate you (move house) to another area where you feel safer.

This is organised by the police. Let them know if you think you’re at risk.

Additional links

Victims of crime - find help

If you're a victim of crime, you can now search for services in your area that can give you help and support

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