PCC Blog 91

How do we help upcoming generations to live without violence? This is one of the objectives of our Violence Reduction Unit and last week you may have seen one of the projects it supports on BBC Breakfast.

The project is called Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) and it is currently operating in eight schools in South Yorkshire. The BBC featured Brinsworth Academy, Rotherham.

It works like this.

For a few weeks, between four and six members of staff at the schools are trained in the methods of MVP. In turn they identify a small team of pupils who have volunteered to help their peers recognise potentially poor behaviour and call it out.

The teams go into classrooms and lead sessions on what makes for healthy relationships. They encourage their colleagues to be what they call ‘up-standers’ and not ‘bystanders’. Bystanders, for example, see their friend behaving in a bullying fashion and say nothing, whereas up-standers pluck up courage, take their friend to one side and say they think this is not right.

The teams may also take sessions on how to recognise other examples of poor behaviour – such as misogynistic language or harassment. On one occasion when I saw the programme in action in a Glasgow school, two pupils took a class of year 10s for an hour and spoke about how to recognise domestic abuse and what to do about it.

They were very knowledgeable – they had obviously prepared very well – and led the class in a challenging and thoughtful interactive session. Young people broke into groups for intense conversations on themes around healthy relationships that their peer mentors had suggested.

The theory behind the programme is that young people are more likely to listen to their peers than to adults and there is a good deal of academic research to support this – from Scotland, Sweden and the USA. The researchers found that the attitudes of the young people improved, fewer pupils were being excluded from school and pupils said they felt safer. They also found that academic results improved as well, though this was not an aim of the programme.

Mentors in Violence Prevention is a good example of how the Violence Reduction Unit is helping to influence the present generation of young people. My guess is that they will also influence the attitudes and behaviours of some of the generations above them as well. They will not be bystanders in the home either.

Future remembering

Last week I visited Bramley Parish Council in the Rotherham District. We had a good, frank, wide-ranging discussion. I really value these occasions because I often learn more than I think I am going to do when I look at the agenda. Although we spoke about the reasons for the visit – residential burglaries, speeding issues and how contact with the neighbourhood police can be made better –  we also touched on other matters and one in particular – Remembrance Day.

The councillors told me about the extensive commemorations that happen in Bramley. They spoke about a march and gathering on Remembrance Sunday that attracts as many as 1,000 people – which is a big event. The MP, John Healey, has been very supportive.

They pointed out how these numbers had grown in recent years. This is true across the county and I imagine across the country. Yet I can recall debates and discussions not so very long ago when it was being suggested that Remembrance commemorations were falling away and would not continue beyond the lives of those who had seen active service in either of the world wars. Yet the opposite happened. It is almost as if the realisation that these veterans were becoming so few that we determined to rouse ourselves and ensure that their sacrifices really were not forgotten,

The reason Bramley Parish council raised the matter was because in the past they had been well supported on the day by police officers who helped the procession cross busy roads. But this support had been withdrawn in recent years – and this is county-wide – and they were bewildered by that.

And so am I.

I realise that the parish councils will have to apply to the district council to get roads closed. That is not a matter for the police. And I realise there is a cost to the police – financial and organisational. But there is another cost that needs to be considered: public goodwill towards the police.

If the police want to find occasions when they can be highly visible, when they can do something for their communities that is much appreciated and build relationships and trust, there are few better ones than this. So I will be speaking to the Chief Constable about it. If we start now, we can have things in place for Remembrance commemorations in every part of South Yorkshire in good time. The police may not be able to do as much as they once did. But we need to be clear about what can be done well in advance. This will be time and money well spent.

Law and the layperson

As I understand it, the Crown Prosecution Service has told the police that there is no legal basis for bringing a charge of corporate manslaughter against National Highways (formerly Highways England) for the deaths of some of those killed on smart motorways because the agency has no ‘duty of care’ towards them.

I am not a lawyer so cannot comment on whether this is a correct understanding of the law. But as a lay person, it does not seem right. I can understand why such a duty might not apply to the existing motorway, but I cannot understand why there is no duty of care when the agency makes substantial, material changes to a motorway that introduce a danger that was not there before. It seems to me that this would be in some ways analogous to saying that, when undertaking repairs, the agency had no duty of care to the workers on the site or the motorists who were passing by or those who subsequently drove there. I can’t believe this is the case.

If the review of smart motorway safety currently being undertaken by the government shows that safety has been compromised rather than improved by reconfiguring the motorways in this way, I have a feeling that the issue of ‘duty of care’ will be re-visited. In the meantime, what do the academic lawyers – as opposed to the armchair lawyers like me – make of this?

Stay safe and well.