Victims of rape and sexual crimes forced to travel 25 miles to different county after police close specialist unit in Milton Keynes

Victims of rape and sexual crimes in MK are being forced to travel 25 miles to Bicester after police closed the city’s specialist unit without consultation.

The Sexual Assault Referral Centre has been based at Bletchley Police station for many years.

Bletchley unit to close

Bletchley unit to close

But Thames Valley police bosses closed the station, along with other neighbourhood venues, in a bid to save cash.

It was assumed the SARC unit would be relocated in Milton Keynes. But this week concerned councillors discovered it has been moved to Bicester.

Liberal Democrat councillor Robin Bradburn, who Milton Keynes Council’s representative on the Thames Valley Police Authority Police and Crime Panel, is now urging police to bring the specialist unit back to MK.

He said: “It’s unacceptable that the police made this decision with no consultation and that victims of crime, especially of this nature, have to travel miles outside of MK to be afforded the service and support they deserve when reporting a crime.

“The Lib Dems will be making the case for this vital unit to be brought back to Milton Keynes at the next Police and Crime Panel.

During last year alone, 243 rapes were recorded by police in Milton Keynes.

Labour councillor Hannah O’Neill is chair of Safer MK, a partnership with police and other organisations. She will be questioning police bosses about why the unit was closed with no consultation.

“We only found out third hand ... Had we been consulted or informed, MK Council could perhaps have helped provide police with alternative premises. I will be asking if that is still possible,” she said.

"It is not fair that victims of sexual offences and rapes should have to travel this distance to a specialist unit. Milton Keynes is an urban area - we should have our own facility."

A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: "A number of organisations were engaged with as part of the relocation of the SARC from Bletchley to Bicester.

He said these were the Thames Valley SARC Partnership Board, which consists of representatives from: Oxfordshire Adults Safeguarding Board (representing the adult and children’s safeguarding boards in the Thames Valley); Care UK, the provider; The Survivors Trust and Refuge, which provide counselling and advocacy services to clients and support the client voice.

The spokesman added: "Engagement was also undertaken to help inform the new arrangements in Bicester. We asked The Survivors Trust to speak to individuals with lived experience about what they expect from the Thames Valley SARCs..

"Their feedback highlighted that it is important for the SARCs to be located in an anonymous building that is centrally located for people across the Thames Valley and is easily accessible by public transport.

“We are in the position of the Thames Valley of having two SARCs located in Slough and Bicester. These are located to serve the whole of the Thames Valley.

“Since the move from Bletchley to Bicester the SARC has seen more people utilising its vital services."

The SARC service is jointly commissioned by NHS England and Thames Valley Police.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “Due to the closure of Bletchley Police Station later this year it was imperative that we found new premises to provide these vital services to support people across the Thames Valley.

“In line with national guidelines, we worked with the police to identify and secure new facilities that met the national service specification for Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs).

“The decision was also informed by the views of service users. We asked the The Survivors Trust to speak to individuals with lived experience, who told us they would like a discreet service that is centrally located for people across the Thames Valley.

“The new premises in Bicester ensure we address both service user feedback and the national requirement to provide a stand-alone, fit for purpose building with the necessary forensic and health facilities, which is used solely by the SARC and in a location that provides equitable service provision for the population it serves.

“The Thames Valley is one of a small number of areas in the country where more than one SARC is provided, with another service located in Slough. If somebody has been sexually assaulted or abused in the Thames Valley, they can attend an appointment at either of the two SARCs. We encourage anyone who has or thinks they have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse to access the services, either by contacting them directly or through the police, a health or social care professional or one of the third sector organisations that support victims of sexual assault or abuse.”