King's Speech: Hostage victim wants stronger support

Rhianon Bragg
Rhianon Bragg wants help for victims to guide them through the justice system

A domestic abuse and anti-stalking campaigner wants the King's Speech to be used to strengthen victims' rights.

In 2020, Rhianon Bragg's ex-partner Gareth Wyn Jones was jailed after holding her hostage at gunpoint at her home near Caernarfon, Gwynedd.

She wants trained advocates for victims to guide them through the "confusing minefield" of the justice system.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) apologised for causing "profound distress" in its handling of the case.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said a draft law to transform victims' experiences had been carried over to Parliament's next session.

In August, the CPS apologised to Ms Bragg for deciding not to charge Mr Jones with harassment which she had reported to the police prior to him taking her hostage.

"I was never told at the time about the victims' right to review. So that opportunity to question the decision wasn't given to me," said Ms Bragg.

The consequences of the CPS's decision were devastating, she said.

"Our [family's] perpetrator went on to, for five months more, stalk us, to abuse us, and the final incident was to hold me at gunpoint overnight threatening to kill me."

Rhianon Bragg and her ex-partner Gareth Wyn Jones
Rhianon Bragg said her ex-partner Gareth Wyn Jones was controlling and abusive during their five year relationship

An already "horrific time", she said, was "made worse by the criminal justice system".

"You're expected as a victim whose experienced trauma to cope with scenarios, language and processes which are completely foreign to you."

The King's Speech provides the government with an opportunity to highlight its priorities for the months ahead.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill was introduced to Parliament in March but was not passed before the session ended. MPs agreed to allow it to be reintroduced and given more time to become law.

Ms Bragg welcomed the expected measures on improving support for victims of crime, but said the government needed to go further and "make it about protecting victims and giving victims the security that they need".

Ms Bragg branded the UK government's decision to add provisions on prisoners and parole to the bill as "insulting".

Instead she called for additional measures for victims to be included such as a provision for all victims to be given an advocate to "guide victims through the process... in language that can be understood".

She also said support services must be allocated "sustainable funding", as well as changes on sentences relating to domestic abuse and stalking.

"It's horrific what the perpetrators - quite frankly - can get away with," she said.

"I realise we've got a squeeze on prison places at the moment, but I think it's something that needs to be looked at because for many victims the only time they're truly safe is when the perpetrator isn't physically there."

In too many cases "the sentences do not reflect the crimes that have been committed, the devastation on the lives of the victims and their families".

Ms Bragg's case has been raised in the House of Commons by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts, whose party wants a victims' commissioner to be created for Wales as part of its alternative King's Speech.

It is an idea welcomed by Ms Bragg, who said that while there was a victims' commissioner covering England and Wales, there was a period when the post was vacant and she reached out to London's victims' commissioner.

Ms Bragg said that while she was grateful to Claire Waxman for her support "there should have been someone else" with Wales' sizeable rural population presenting "additional challenges on many fronts for victims".

The MoJ said: "Our Victims and Prisoners Bill has been carried over to Parliament's next session. It will place the foundations of the Victims' Code on a statutory footing and put victims' voices at the heart of the justice system, improving their experience at every stage."

It added that funding for victim and witness support services had increased and the number of independent sexual and domestic abuse advisors was now more than 1,000.

The CPS said: "The decision in May 2019 not to charge Gareth Wyn Jones with harassment was wrong and we've apologised to the victim for the profound distress this has caused.

"We later charged Jones with stalking, possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life, false imprisonment, and making a threat to kill, to which he pled guilty, and we included evidence of his earlier harassment of the victim as part of our case."