500 prosecution staff sent for counselling over traumatic cases
HUNDREDS of Scotland’s state prosecutors and caseworkers have undergone trauma counselling because of the deeply distressing nature of the crimes they have to investigate.
Three out of four advocates depute, who prosecute serious violent crimes such as murder and rape, have been given professional help to deal with personal and psychological problems triggered by their jobs.
Two-thirds of specialist caseworkers who interview victims of sexual abuse and examine photographs of murders, fatal road accidents and accidental deaths have also been given counselling.
Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) disclosed that it has spent £40,000 on ‘vicarious trauma’ counselling for nearly 500 staff since support measures were introduced in April 2016.
Staff who have been enrolled in the programme, run by private firm Optima Health, include 249 out of 339 High Court prosecutors and 139 out of 221 specialist caseworkers.
More than 100 prosecutors and over 50 caseworkers opted to continue the therapy after their initial referral session.
Counselling was originally only available to COPFS staff dealing with indecent sexual images of children, but the remit was later widened to include people involved in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving deaths, sexual offences and serious and violent crimes.
Distressing high-profile cases in recent years have included the ‘cold case’ prosecution of World’s End murderer Angus Sinclair, jailed for a minimum of 37 years in 2014 after he was successfully prosecuted for a second time.
The 69-year-old was convicted of raping and strangling 17-yearolds Helen Scott and Christine Eadie after a night out at the World’s End pub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in 1977.
Grisly images were also used in the prosecution of killer Alexander Pacteau, jailed for 23 years in 2015 for the murder of Karen Buckley. He battered the Irish student nurse to death then tried to dissolve her body in acid.
Distressing footage of a dead toddler lying on his bedroom floor formed part of the evidence against lesbian couple Rachel and Nyomi Fee, who were both convicted of murdering Fife toddler Liam Fee in one of the most distressing cases to be heard.
The boy’s mother Rachel Fee, 31, was sentenced to a minimum of 23 and a half years in jail and Nyomi Fee, 29, a minimum of 24 years in July 2016 for his murder and ill treatment
One juror asked for counselling, saying he experienced flashbacks, woke up in the night and found himself in tears.
COPFS says ‘vicarious trauma’ arises from workers becoming traumatised by exposure to the trauma experienced by others.
A guide for managers and staff states: ‘Continued exposure to distressing material can have a negative effect on some people.
‘The provision of trauma support is necessary in assisting the service to meet its duty of care to individuals who are working with potentially traumatising information, images or situations, and to mitigate any long term effects of such exposure.’
Engagement with the Vicarious Trauma Support Service is ‘strongly recommended’ by COPFS for, amongst others, caseworkers in homicide teams, road accident investigation teams and Crown counsel, the senior lawyers who decide if accused persons should be prosecuted.
‘Exposure to trauma suffered by others’
STRANGLED: Christine Eadie