Someone is arrested for murder every five days because of information passed anonymously to Crimestoppers. And £800 worth of drugs is seized every hour because of information the organisation receives. But few people realise Crimestoppers is an independent charity which relies on fundraising and donations to help it fight crime. GIL LIGHTFOOT reports.
WHEN a crime is committed someone always knows something. But they don’t always want to get involved, they don’t want to give evidence and they don’t want to appear in court.
“That’s where Crimestoppers comes in,” says Colin Brown, the recently elected chairman of the Cheshire Crimestoppers regional board.
The charity’s aim is simple: it provides a telephone number, 0800 555 111, for people to pass on information about crime anonymously, and without fear of retribution. “Tell us what you know, not who you are” is the Crimestoppers message.
That message has proved so effective that the charity is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary and also its one millionth actionable call.
It is also proving invaluable during the present national campaign targeting gun and knife crime.
Ironically, the charity was originally set up following the stabbing of a police officer during the riots at the Broadwater Farm Estate in London in 1985. It is the only UK charity helping to solve crime and make communities safer.
But even with the anniversary celebrations in full flow, Cheshire regional board vice chairman James Wood, says the charity is constantly seeking new ways to get the message across that there is a way for people to report crime anonymously.
It was originally set up by businessman Michael Ashcroft (now Lord Ashcroft, chairman of the trustees of Crimestoppers) in response to the stabbing of PC Keith Blakelock. He offered to provide the police with money for a reward to encourage somebody to come forward with information about the killing.
Discussions with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police resulted in him founding the Crimestoppers operation in the UK in 1988 with some business colleagues who were also concerned about the rise in violent crime.
Today there are Crimestoppers branches throughout the UK with county-based committees working in partnership with police forces.
However, James says that the organisation suffers from an identity problem. “The problem we have is that many people think we are two things which we are not. One is that we are TV’s Crimewatch programme. The second is that we are part of the police. It’s important to point out that we are a charity which works with the police but is not a part of them.
“The people who phone us with information generally don’t want anything to do with the police and don’t want to give evidence in court.
“They are assured of anonymity – even if they apply for a reward for the information they have given. We have a system in place which means their anonymity is totally protected.”
The Cheshire branch was set up 10 years ago and the volunteers come from all walks of life. “As a charity we rely on people’s generosity of time and expertise,” said James.
The Crimestoppers’ board of directors includes a number of fire and rescue officers and ambulance and NHS personnel.
As well as offering a way for people to pass on information about crime in general, Crimestoppers also runs campaigns which target specific crimes and hard-to-reach groups such as young teenagers.
One of its most popular initiatives for young people is a website, www.shadowcs.co.uk, which introduces youngsters to the charity and gets them to engage with issues of crime that affect them.
“We also target drugs problems by going into schools and universities,” says James.
Another local initiative is to approach supermarkets to display Crimestoppers’ publicity material.
“When you think of the weekly footfall the potential for us to get our message across is enormous,” said James.
“After all, everyone goes to the supermarket, don’t they? And Crimestoppers is for everyone.”