An investigation into the alleged activities of the person known as Stakeknife
Email: [email protected]                                              Tel: 01234 858298
Victims Focus Group - Terms of Reference (ToR)
Your Rights, Your Voice, Your Views

Open Consultation on the Terms of Reference of the Victims Focus Group

I. Introduction

Chief Constable Jon Boutcher has identified the need to have a transparent victim-centred approach to the Kenova Investigation. There are three key areas within the investigation which will support and provide reassurance to victims, survivors and victims’ groups:

  • The practical/operational support of the investigation will be conducted by the investigation team. The Op Kenova website provides an explanation of what information, support and protection are available and how to access these rights. 

  • An Independent Steering Group (ISG) is being established. This will advise and support Mr Boutcher across all areas of the Op Kenova investigation.

  • A Victims Focus Group (VFG) has been established which is independent of the Kenova investigation. The VFG is impartial and is made up of a group of independent international experts in victims’ rights. Members will utilise their on-going experience to bring best practice on victims’ rights and make recommendations to the investigation in relation to victims’ needs and interests. Ostensibly the role of the VFG is to review and advise the investigation on all aspects of victim care. 

There is no regulatory or statutory requirement for either the Independent Steering Group or the Victims Focus Group. These groups are being established in order to provide transparency, oversight and reassurance for victims’ families with regards to the conduct of the investigation.

II. The role of the Victims Focus Group

The Victims Focus Group is, and will remain, completely independent of the Kenova Investigation. Its overriding duty is to victims of crime; their rights, needs and interests. The aim of the VFG is to identify best practice on what information, support and protection should be provided to victims of crime. In particular the group will pay attention to the rights afforded to victims of crime under the Northern Ireland Victims Charter and the EU Victims Directive.

The VFG is aware that victims have experienced trauma, fear and isolation and this can prevent victims from being able to access their rights in practice. The VFG will endeavour to identify issues in the provision of rights to victims of crime and identify possible solutions to these issues to ensure the needs of the victims and their families are met while engaged in the process.

The VFG has been given a commitment that it will be provided with access to Chief Constable Jon Boutcher and other key leaders of the Kenova Investigation. Although there is no legal basis for doing so, the group can professionally and publicly hold the investigation to account in relation to the provision of best practice on the rights of victims of crime. This will be done via the publication of the group’s findings and recommendations.

What can you expect from the Victim Focus Group?

Jon Boutcher has given an undertaking to the Victims Focus Group that the investigation team will provide them with the victim strategy which will include plans of engagement with victims of crime. The Victims Focus Group will review the Kenova victim strategy with plans of engagement with victims of crime. The group can request information and clarification in relation to these victim strategies and make recommendations in relation to any amendments.

The Victims Focus Group will liaise with the Op Kenova Family Liaison Co-ordinator throughout the investigation in order to ensure victims have access to support groups. The VFG will aim to provide guidance to the investigation team to help them establish the best mechanisms to meet the needs of victims of Op Kenova.

Operation Kenova will not disclose the personal details of victims and their families to the VFG. The group has been given a commitment that aggregate data, which will not identify victims, will be provided to them for review. The VFG can also look for information and clarifications in relation to how victims’ rights are being provided in practice. This data will be considered by the group in order to ascertain whether or not the investigation is complying with its obligations in relation to the Northern Ireland Victims Charter and the EU Victims Directive. This will enable the VFG to consider if the investigation is complying with best practice on victims’ rights and giving victims access to the information, support and protection, which they are entitled to.

Victims’ families can make a formal complaint about the investigation to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Complaints will be dealt with and managed through the existing complaints processes.

As detailed above, aggregate data will be supplied to the VFG to identify systematic or reoccurring issues.

The VFG will engage with the Op Kenova team quarterly, in addition the Kenova investigation will conduct an annual survey of victims and survivors subject to the victim strategy (without disclosing any personal details of victims and families). These will identify reoccurring or systematic issues and identify interventions to ensure the highest possible standards of victim care. This will provide an opportunity for the investigation and the group to discuss any issues which may arise in relation to victims’ rights, needs and interests. It will also permit the investigation and the group to discuss best practice in relation to remedies. Should any issue arise regarding victims’ rights, which is of immediate concern to the Victims Focus Group and/or Chief Constable Boutcher and his team, all parties will be able to arrange a conference call immediately. Those members of the VFG who are available will attend the conference call.

The group will hold the investigation to account by publishing its findings. Any recommendations and/or best practice will be published in its yearly report.

The VFG intends to produce a lessons learned document for the benefit of other investigations. The complexities of this type of investigation and the sharing of issues and solutions identified will seek to develop best practices and may be of assistance to other investigations worldwide.

The VFG recognises that that all victims of crime must be treated in a respectful, sensitive, tailored, professional and non-discriminatory manner. Should a conflict arises during the course of its work the group will always favour the needs, rights and interests of victims of crime. The group wishes to place the needs and voice of victims at the heart of its work.  In order to achieve this, the group will draft a terms of reference through the victims’ lens. The group wishes to co-design the terms of reference in corroboration with victims and survivors and other relevant stakeholders. 
In particular the VFG would like feedback on:

  • What it can do to ensure that victims’ right to information and support is maintained

  • What it can do to ensure transparency of its work

  • What you expect from them so they can try to meet your expectations and needs within the powers given to the group under the terms of reference

III. What rights do you have and what can you expect from the Victims Focus Group in relation to these rights?

Outlined below are some of your rights which the Victims Focus Group will consider on a regular basis. You might like to give feedback on the draft terms of reference in relation to these rights.

a. The Right to Information

The group will consider and advise how information should be provided to victims eg should the information be provided in writing, orally either by phone or in regularly scheduled meetings and/or via a website.

b. The Right to Understand and be Understood

The Victims Focus Group recognises that sometimes victims can have difficulty being understood and understanding the information provided to them. The group will consider how information can be made easier to understand, particularly in light of learning difficulties, language barriers, disabilities and physical or mental health issues.

The VFG can ask the investigation team to tell it how it is providing information. The group can hold the investigation to account and give recommendations on what victims need to help them to be understood and to understand. Recommendations made by the VFG will be published on a yearly basis and in a yearly report.

c. The Right to Support

Victims and survivors are entitled to access victims support services.  For further details view the Victims charter fo N.I
The VFG will ensure that all practical support that should be provided to victims is made available to them through a systematic process of review and advice to Chief Constable Boutcher.

d. The Right to Protection

Victims have a right to be protected from intimidation and repeat victimisation. The VFG appreciates that this investigation and the participation in it, for example by retelling a story of loss, may be very painful for families as they relive traumas of the past.

The VFG will be working with the investigation on what they can do to try to minimise the risk of repeat victimisation to try to reduce further trauma. For example, be based on best practice and EU rights, the investigation team should keep the number of interviews to a minimum and should allow for breaks during interview in accordance with an individual’s needs.

The VFG will be informed by the investigation team of any systematic and common issues faced by victims.  The group will speak to the investigation about victims’ right to protection and try to find a remedy and solution.

IV. How can you get in contact with the Victims Focus Group?

a. Your Voice, Your Views

Victims have a right to access to justice and to have their voice heard during the course of any investigation under the EU Victim Directive and domestic law.  The VFG understands that knowledge on how victims’ rights are provided in reality has to come from victims and survivors. The Op Kenova team has an email address and telephone number (below). Op Kenova will undertake to forward any direct communications with the Victim Focus Group.

The Op Kenova team will conduct an annual survey for victims and survivors. The VFG has been given a commitment that any systematic issues and common themes which affect victims’ rights identified within the results of these surveys will be brought to the attention of the VFG. For example, the group will be able to consider if victims could access their rights within the justice system; whether the victims’ needs were met and what was the perception of the services that were accessed. This information will help the VFG ascertain whether the victims’ rights were protected and adhered to and if the services received met their needs and expectations.

The VFG will make recommendations to the investigation in relation to the issues identified and speak to the team about possible solutions.

b. When and how can I voice my concerns or problems to the Victims Focus Group?

Victims have a right to make a formal complaint to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the complaint process to the Police Ombudsman is explained on its website. People can also contact the Op Kenova team via email.

Mr Boutcher welcomes any issues or concerns raised. People can outline concerns separately to the investigation outside of the formal complaints process. This does not in any way take away from the right to make a formal complaint. It is in addition to the formal complaint process outlined above.
Information on how to inform the investigation about issues and concerns under these mechanisms is available on the Op Kenova website, and Op Kenova commits to responding within seven days. The VFG may recommend that training or a policy change may occur. 

The group will hold the investigation to account professionally and publically via the reporting of their findings.

c. How can I give my feedback and views on the terms of reference of the Victims Focus Group?

The Victims Focus Group will have a once-a-month conference call to discuss any issues which affect victims’ rights. 

Anyone who wishes to comment on these terms of reference can contact the Op Kenova team, who are available on the following telephone number: 01234 858298 or via email: [email protected] 


The aim of the Victims Focus Group is to bring an independent perspective to what rights should be provided to all victims of crime. The VFG will also make recommendations on how these rights should be provided. The group will have monthly conference calls with the investigation team to discuss any issues or concerns.

It is important that your voice is heard. You know better than anyone what you need. What do you need the VFG to do to help protect your right to information, support and protection?

The VFG will draft the final terms of reference in light of your feedback. The feedback period has now closed.

The VFG hopes that, when published, the terms of reference will represent a co-design based on feedback and the group’s knowledge of best practice on victims’ rights.