Families of loved ones lost at the hands of killers gather for victims' conference

National Victims Association's 21st annual conference at The Little Haven Hotel, South Shields.
National Victims Association's 21st annual conference at The Little Haven Hotel, South Shields.

The loved ones of those lost through murder and manslaughter have gathered to bring their voices together in a conference which is fighting for change.

The National Victims' Association (NVA) was formed 26 years ago and is meeting this weekend for its annual conference in South Shields.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck addressing the NVA conference earlier today.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck addressing the NVA conference earlier today.

Hosted at the Little Haven Hotel, the town's MP Emma Lewell-Buck, speakers from the Victims' Commissioners, the National Offender Management Service, the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Witness Unit with the Ministry of Justice have all being brought together to address the families and campaigners working on behalf of those who have been killed at the hands of another person or died in suspicious circumstances.

They hope they can push for action to make the process better and more supportive for victims, as well as funded more fully.

Today's discussions also feature a talk by one family as they share their experiences of losing a relative and the justice system.

They day also included a remembrance session, with the talk session closed with a balloon ceremony by The Venerable Peter Robinson, Archdeacon of Lindisfarne.

The conference room at the NVA event.

The conference room at the NVA event.

People from Scotland to Penzance travelled to be part of the weekend's events.

David Hines, from Jarrow, is founder of the NVA and its consultant, lost his daughter Marie, 23, when she was murdered by her ex-partner Anthony Davison in 1992, with his work helping to support families as they seek justice

He said: "What this means to us is we can work together to put pressure on the Government and we have still got a lot of people now who are fighting for justice.

"A lot of our people feel totally isolated throughout the year and this is a break for them, so it's a chance for a reunion and to share their stories.

John Johnson, pictured with a photo of his son Kevin.

John Johnson, pictured with a photo of his son Kevin.

"It's the full weekend, it's not just the Saturday, and we have a few social events and we share our experiences."

Kevin Hogg, 32, from Yarm, lost his mother Julie when she was murdered by Billy Dunlop in 1989, with her body found in her Billingham home.

His family's fight for Dunlop to be brought to justice led to a change in the 800-year double jeopardy law in April 2005, which had stated anyone acquitted by a jury could not be retried for the same offence.

Dunlop had been acquitted in 1991, but later confessed to a prison officer while in jail for an assault.

Kevin, who is a consultant to NVA, said: "This is like a respite break, and it's imperative and comforting.

"It's all about peer support, everybody has lost somebody to murder, manslaughter or in suspicious circumstances,

"We don't want sympathy, we want empathy about what we are feeling.

"Everyone loves coming to the conference and look forward to it, they reunite or they make friends.

"There are a lot of friendships which are forged for an eternity."

Among the delegates was John Johnson, 67, from Sunderland, whose son Kevin, 22, was stabbed to death outside his Pennywell home in May 2007. Life sentences with minimum tariffs were given to Dean Curtis, then 19, Tony Hawkes, then 17, and Jordan Towers, then 19.

Mr Johnson has called for a sentence of life to mean life.

He said: "It gives you some comfort and we're all fighting for what NVA believes in and it's interesting to hear their views.

"There are different speakers, so we get a different point of view each time and it's interesting to listen to what they say and there's lots that comes up which is very relevant to you."

More about the work of NVA can be found via http://victimsfirst.org.uk/.