When Jayne fostered two children at her Sussex home she knew they had been neglected, but it was some time before they opened up about the true horrors they had faced, horrors that resulted in their birth mother being jailed for 28 years.
Jayne has spoken about the emotional trauma her children went through giving evidence, and how she herself faced their abusive birth mother in court.
“I wanted the jury to see that I was there for the children,” she said.
Jayne – whose name has been changed to protect the identity of her children – and her family were supported throughout the process by a wide range of agencies, from social services to the CPS.
But it was a pioneering new videolink facility in East Sussex that made all the difference, allowing the two vulnerable children to speak out about what happened, without having to go to court at all.
'It wasn’t until they were in care that they started disclosing what had gone on'
Jayne said: “They were removed [from their birth mother] for neglect and came to us in 2014.
“It wasn’t until they were in care that they started disclosing about what things had gone on.
“Obviously the police got involved and then it was down to them to get the ball rolling, and we just had to support the children during the time from them being arrested and being charged and waiting for the court date.”
But the justice process can be lengthy and traumatic, especially in cases involving young children.
Jailed for 48 years
After an emotional trial, the children’s birth mother was jailed for 28 years and their stepfather for 20 years.
The fear for Jayne and her husband was that their children would run into their birth mother during the trial, which she says would have been ‘traumatising’ for them.
Fortunately for them they were offered the chance to be the first users of the brand new vulnerable witness suite in East Sussex.
The facility – the location of which is top secret – allows vulnerable victims and witnesses to give evidence by videolink in a comfortable setting without the need to go to court at all.
'It was so much better for them'
The usual practice is for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence over videolink from another room in the court building, but this comes with the risk of bumping into the defendant or their family.
The new witness suite was made possible because of a £72,000 boost from the Ministry of Justice secured by police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne to fund two such facilities in East Sussex. One is already operating in West Sussex.
Jayne said the witness suite was a game-changer and allowed her children to give evidence in a safe, relaxed setting surrounded by toys.
“It was so much better for them. It just put them so much at ease.
“It is definitely the best option for victims and for witnesses to feel relaxed without the fear of bumping into the defendant.”
The children’s evidence was instrumental in securing the convictions of their birth mother and stepfather.
'They would not have coped at all'
Jayne said she thinks this would not have been possible without the vulnerable witness suite.
“They would not have coped at all [without it].
“Justice was done and their voices have been heard.”
'Courts can seem imposing'
Superintendent Simon Nelson, head of criminal justice and custody at Sussex Police, said: “This suite is one of a range of measures supported by many different parties to make sure that we provide the best possible support available for the more vulnerable victims and witnesses.
“Courts are for good reason very formal [but] can seem imposing to individuals, in particular when they have been through a really traumatic experience.”
Supt Nelson welcomed the new witness suite as part of Sussex Police’s ongoing commitment to supporting people through the justice system.
Sussex PCC Katy Bourne said: “It is all very well having a separate room in a court building for somebody to give evidence but it doesn’t get away from the fact that the perpetrator is still in the building and for many people, particularly those who have been victims of violent crime, that is a very difficult setting to put themselves in.
“Our court process is very adversarial by nature and that can be traumatic [for vulnerable victims and witnesses].
“We want to make it as easy as possible for victims and witnesses to give evidence.”