Man who did this has been let off by police, say angry family
By Nicky Carter - Reporter
A TEENAGER who was left with cuts and bruises to his face when he was attacked on his way home from college said he feels “let down” by the police.
Student Ben Matthews, 18, said neighbours had to pull his assailant off him two weeks ago in an unprovoked attack that happened yards from his home in Startforth.
The youngster, who is studying for an IT qualification at Darlington College, had just got off the bus and was walking home when a man began trying to make conversation with him.
Mr Matthews, who moved to Grangefields adjacent to Deerbolt Young Offenders’ Institution, in Startforth, last year with his mother and stepfather, said: “He’d tried talking to me and claimed he was an under cover off duty prison officer and he needed to see inside my bag.”
When Mr Matthews refused, he says the man dragged him off the main road and punched him five or six times. His mother, Joanne Law, said: “I couldn’t believe it when he phoned me and said he’d been attacked, especially so close to home. I thought he was going to say in Darlington, but it was just around the corner from home.”
She added the police arrested the 33-year-old and advised the family to go to accident and emergency for treatment. Mr Matthews suffered severe bruising to his right cheek, a bleed in the right eye as well as cuts to his gums and face.
But the family were shocked when they attended Bishop Auckland police station the next day to have photographs of his injuries taken.
Mrs Law said: “The man was sat in reception when we got there. I’d never seen him so I didn’t know and Ben was so shocked and scared – he didn’t know what to do.
“When the police officer spoke to us they said he [the assailant] would have only been done for common assault and so they’d agreed he would go through the community Checkpoint scheme as it was better for him.”
Checkpoint offers eligible offenders a four-month “contract” to engage in as an alternative to prosecution. Work includes volunteering in the community. The scheme was launched in 2015 and is only run by Durham Constabulary.
Serious offences such as rape, robbery or murder are not eligible, neither are driving offences, cases of domestic violence or hate crime.
But Ms Law said: “There was no thought for Ben or what he’d been through or what he wanted. We were all totally shocked. It was all done and dusted in 24 hours.
“We didn’t know what this was and we can’t understand how they [the police] could do this. They’ve not been out to see Ben or talk through what has happened and the witness statements haven’t been signed.”
Detective Inspector Andy Crowe, checkpoint lead officer for Durham Police, said: “The victim’s family were consulted regarding the disposal options for the case. The offender has been taken on to the Checkpoint programme, and a restorative approach will be encouraged.
“Checkpoint offers offenders an opportunity to address the underlying reasons why they committed the crime in the first place, and is not a ‘soft option’. Checkpoint will be harder to complete than all of the current out-of-court disposals currently available, for example, a caution, or a fixed penalty notice.”
However Mrs Law added: “We just don’t know what is going on. No one has let Ben know anything.
“He had not been party to any of the discussions of what is happening.
“It’s just wrong that he’s going to walk away without any real punishment and go back to his job. It’s just completely wrong. The police said this is better for him – the guy who did this to Ben.
“But what about Ben? No one has given him a thought or a say in this.
“It is just wrong and we’re all really angry about it, there has been no thought about the effect on Ben, what it has done to him or what he wants to happen.”
“Ben hasn’t had any justice and he’s had no closure. Everyone we’ve spoken to – friends and family – have said how shocked they are that this has happened and no one has ever heard of this Checkpoint.
“At no point was Ben consulted about what was going on. In fact the police haven’t been anywhere near.”
Mrs Law added the family have made an official complaint to the police, crime and victims’ commissioner and have also been in contact with MP Helen Goodman, who has promised to look into the situation.