Jon Needham: the man who went to hell and back as a child – and now fights for all rape victims | UK criminal justice

Jon Needham seems to be like a copper. Tall, broad and imposing, he works in a lifetime offender administration unit, the place he offers with critical and organised criminals. So when he speaks, his gentleness comes as a shock. “I joined the police as a result of I used to be captivated with serving to folks,” he says. “It feels like a cliche to say you need to make a actual distinction, however I genuinely imply it.”

Needham will get paid for working with “nominals” – folks who are on the police database (“That’s what the police name them, I name them folks,” he says). However he’s additionally remodeling how his colleagues take care of victims of rape and sexual assault.

It took him till he was 45 to inform the story of the abuse he suffered as a child in foster care. In 2019, he detailed to a group of 70 officers from his personal drive, the Metropolis of London, how he was handled by the criminal justice system after he went to courtroom. “I needed cops to see what it’s like from the voice of the survivor. After what I’ve lived by way of, I assumed, properly, if I can use that to assist folks in a constructive approach, that’d be nice.”

The variety of folks being convicted for rape is at a file low – simply 1.6% of the 52,210 rapes recorded by police in England and Wales in 2020 resulted in a cost or a summons – and confidence in the criminal justice system is at all-time low, so the work has by no means been extra pressing.

Jon Needham aged around six, before he went into care.
Jon Needham aged round six, earlier than he went into care. {Photograph}: Courtesy of Jon-Jay Needham

In June, a authorities report into the staggering decline in rape prosecutions, which have plummeted by 70% since 2016-17, prompted ministers to apologise unreservedly to rape survivors, saying they have been “deeply ashamed” that 1000’s of survivors had been failed on the authorities’s watch. New plans promised to change the focus of police investigations away from the credibility of victims, who have been topic to “digital strip searches”. These embody having cell phones taken away and textual content messages unrelated to a case getting used towards them in courtroom – as properly as notes from counselling and remedy getting used to undermine circumstances. As a substitute, the focus will likely be on the perpetrator, the report claimed.

The report is progress, Needham says, however he isn’t going to wait for the system to rework itself. The tales of survivors, like him, have to be a part of the resolution.

Needham was seven when he was taken into care, after his father was imprisoned for a crime he’s nonetheless not in a position to discuss.

“It was horrendous,” he says. “It simply destroyed our household. My first reminiscence is of a knock on the door and two coppers being there. They got here in, the subsequent minute my dad was in handcuffs, and then he was gone for years. The victims of crime aren’t simply folks who have been abused or robbed or damage, it’s their households, and the households of the criminal – harmless members of the family who have to undergo the torture of going to jail to go to them.”

His mom, with 5 youngsters and no cash, grew to become significantly mentally ailing, and so the youngsters have been eliminated and put into care.

His foster carers have been fairly aged however appeared good folks. “Not my cup of tea, however you understand, they don’t seem to be your loved ones so it’s not a nice expertise,” he remembers. His bed room was small, with a sash window.

However there was one other bed room at the entrance of the home, and it was right here that Needham says a a lot older boy raped him, virtually each week, for about a 12 months.

Speaking about the abuse as an grownup, Needham is calm and matter-of-fact. Back then, he had nobody to inform, he didn’t assume he can be believed, and the older boy made terrifying threats about what would occur to him if he advised anybody.

The abuse went on for a 12 months, till his father got here out of jail and Needham went to reside with him. “We had mattresses, a toaster, a kettle and a washer and that’s all we had for about a 12 months, however for me, it was nice. I assumed ‘that is higher than foster care’ – it was like an journey: we had a back backyard.”

He taught himself to play the guitar and went to music faculty, however dropped out and performed in bands. Via his 20s, he labored in a vary of jobs, from property upkeep to retail, by no means sticking to one factor. “I used to be in the wilderness for a few years,” he says. “I didn’t assume I may do something or was value something.”

When a pal steered he would make a good police officer, he initially thought it was inconceivable – he was dyslexic and had no {qualifications}. However after making use of, and failing a number of instances, he made it into the drive in 2009. “It felt wonderful, virtually like validation, although I knew the coaching can be robust,” he says. “However I suffered a lot from impostor syndrome, and even now I look over my shoulder and surprise if it’s actual.”

He just lately bought a commander of commendation award for coping with critical prolific offenders, having been given a commissioner’s commendation award in 2018 for professionalism and bravery in coping with a violent offender. “It does make me really feel like I lastly belong and deserve to be right here. I’m getting there,” he says.

Needham didn’t disclose what had occurred to him as a child when he joined the drive – he had nonetheless advised nobody – however, after becoming a member of the police, the feeling that he had a duty to report his abuser grew. “I felt responsible about not reporting it for years,” he says. “I assumed: ‘This man will need to have gone on to do it once more.’” So he picked up the cellphone.

Jon Needham says of joining the police: ‘I suffered a lot from imposter syndrome, and even now I look over my shoulder and wonder if it’s real.’
Jon Needham says of becoming a member of the police: ‘I suffered a lot from imposter syndrome, and even now I look over my shoulder and surprise if it’s actual.’ {Photograph}: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Two officers got here to his home. “They did a video assertion – it was the first time I’d ever absolutely recounted the story – and they forgot to press file. It’s not a criticism of the officers, however I point out it now in my speak to officers – be sure you know the tools and be sure you realize it’s working.” He provides that, for survivors, continuously having to relive their trauma simply compounds the injury. “If you do determine to come ahead, you kind of mentally put together your self, there may be an adrenaline excessive. In the event you get off that rollercoaster and then have to get back on, it’s going to convey back recollections and you possibly can endure from PTSD.”

Needham was referred to as a number of instances by the investigating officer in the case, asking if he was positive he needed to go to trial. “It felt like he was attempting to speak me out of it,” he says. “I’m positive that wasn’t the case, however that’s what it felt like. So I stated, ‘Yeah, I’m decided.’ Why would I report it if I’m not going to undergo with it?”

When his day in courtroom arrived, Needham noticed his attacker once more for the first time since he left foster care. He declined to use a display screen or give proof by video hyperlink. “I stated to the officer: ‘I need to look the man in the eye. No matter occurs, I’m going to sit there and I’m going to take a look at him and inform the jury what he’s executed to me.’”

Needham had labored in the police for years by this time, and was accustomed to robust questioning, however discovered the defence barrister significantly confrontational. “I felt like I used to be on trial,” he says. “They’re simply continuously attempting to journey you up on each single factor. He requested me about care properties in the space and whether or not I’d visited any of them, attempting to intentionally confuse me. The barrister was very snotty, very intimidating. I keep in mind standing there, shaking; I used to be petrified.

“I believe, emotionally, I used to be not prepared for it, since you’re by no means prepared for this stuff. By the finish, I felt traumatised.”

After a week-long trial, the jury was launched and took two days to come back: the outcome was hung. Six months later, he was back in courtroom once more. He began getting panic assaults. “I kind of pretended I didn’t have all that, you understand, as a result of I’m in the police service, I needed to be robust.” However when giving proof, he broke down. “I cried like a child, I do know it sounds … the decide paused it for a few minutes, and then went back in and completed my proof. Afterwards, I assumed, I’ve left every part I’ve bought in that courtroom, and I’ve executed every part I can, psychologically, emotionally, bodily. And if I don’t get a outcome then the system’s not working.”

The case went to a hung jury a second time. The man he stated had attacked him walked free.

“I’d been strolling up and down my front room for days and they couldn’t come to a resolution. It was a nightmare, even now it makes my pores and skin crawl to give it some thought.”

Needham’s psychological well being collapsed. “I went house and stayed in my bed room for three months. Just about simply shaking, leaping at noises, you understand […] I wouldn’t exit, I didn’t eat, I used to be sleeping all day and up all night time. I used to be actually indignant for about six months, asking what had gone unsuitable, what I may have executed to persuade them. I felt disbelieved, like I used to be a criminal – like each a part of my life had been beneath the microscope. I used to be mortified.”

He was recognized with PTSD, signed off work for three months, and began the lengthy strategy of getting properly. “Having counselling was the neatest thing I ever did: I simply talked and talked to this poor woman. She was an incredible, wonderful particular person.”

Since that remaining trial, Needham has rebuilt his life. He met his German spouse, an engineer, in 2014, at a blues membership the place he was enjoying, and she helped to make him giggle once more. “She’s extremely supportive of the work I do and appreciates me being open about my previous,” he says. “I stated to her once we met that I’m trying ahead, not back. You may’t drive a automobile should you’re trying in your rear-view mirror.” He additionally has a constructive relationship along with his daughter from a earlier relationship.

As well as, he mentored 13 to 15 12 months olds with the Prince’s Belief. “They began by calling me ‘the Feds’,” he says. “By the finish of the time period, I had them dressing up in police forensic kits and uniforms, finishing mock crime scene inquiries, asking me about how to be part of up, and calling me Officer Needham or Sir.”

At the finish of July he spent 24 hours locked in a cell to raise money for the Survivors Trust. With the charity’s assist, he’s now creating a community of skilled sufferer survivor ambassadors, out there to go to all 43 police forces in England and Wales, to give survivors a voice and present important perception to officers engaged on sexual abuse circumstances.

“I didn’t get closure at the trial however I’m glad I did it,” he says. “I felt the justice system had no empathy. It’s not about folks. To me, it felt extra about simply getting by way of the caseload they’d. I used to be simply one other case quantity on their paper. And that’s what I’m attempting to change – hopefully, the work I do now could have extra impression than one conviction.

“I’ve been by way of the system, I’ve been by way of hell and back. I’ve hidden in my bed room for three months, I’ve had to be dragged out. However I can inform my story – about how I’ve bought from that to the place I’m in the present day”. He says the latest authorities rape overview means “we’re getting assist from the senior stage. It’s been a battle towards the wind, however we have now momentum now.”

He pauses for breath, and lets out a brief giggle. “I’m so captivated with it, I’m going to carry on going till we get the system we want,” he says. “Now I’ve began speaking, nobody is ever going to shut me up.”

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