From a secret location, call agents search for the ‘golden nugget’ of information that could solve a rape, murder or child abuse investigation (Picture: Getty Images)
Standing at the ticket barrier at a station in the south of England, my eyes dart around.
I only have the name of who I am meeting. I don’t know what they look like – or even where they are taking me.
It’s a meeting shrouded in secrecy, as Metro.co.uk has been granted exclusive access to Crimestoppers HQ to see what goes on behind the scenes of this 34-year-old organisation.
Being one of the last to shuffle through the barriers, my contact and I only recognise each other through our mutually expectant expressions. Next, I am guided to the charity’s base. How, I can’t say, but it’s a pretty nondescript building, which, again, is all I can say.
At the end of several corridors, a keypad allows access to the charity’s UK Contact Centre. Behind this door is a small army of call agents hearing first-hand about Britain’s criminal underworld.
It all may sound OTT but for good reason.
Appeal posters are scattered across the Crimestoppers headquarters as an ever-present reminder of the charity’s work
Crimestoppers have helped to secure convictions for a series of high-profile cases, such as the murder of Julia James
‘My boyfriend has a gun beneath his pillow.’
‘An attack is planned at a home with children, you need to stop it.’
‘I know a child abuser…’
These are all messages that have been made to Crimestoppers from concerned members of the public. However the charity also receive calls from criminals terrified of what will happen if they give the same information to the police.
Information might be ‘spat out’ before a call abruptly ends. Other times, a nervous voice tentatively goes into detail on the crime witnessed.
It’s important to keep call handlers safe given the nature of high-profile cases they work with – which range from gang violence to unsolved murders – and whythe location of Crimestoppers’ headquarters has to be top secret information.
Inside the safety of their walls, we meet call handler Diane. She sits beneath a pastel-coloured cloud which acts as a sound absorber – meaning she can her to focus on her own calls within the bustling office.
Diane’s bright pink nails – which match her bright pink hair – type away on a dayglo-lit keyboard as she finishes a report.
Diane works as a call agent within Crimestoppers UK contact centre – a job she wouldn’t change for the world (Pictures: Kirsten Robertson)
While calls can be harrowing, there’s an over-arching sense of community and purpose within the charity(Pictures: Kirsten Robertson)
BBC News plays on a nearby TV; today it’s the Covid Inquiry at the front of the news agenda. Packets of Haribo Starmix lay open on tables, providing a boost for those who are on the 5am early shift.
‘We look for the “golden nugget” of information after police appeals,’ Diane tells Metro.co.uk
‘It may be that someone rings up with a piece of info that was missing and it completes the jigsaw puzzle. We definitely aren’t a “snitch” line. It can be about anything – child abuse, bomb threats, drink driving, class A drugs, domestic abuse.
‘We’ve had calls from places like Northern Ireland, where there’s been threats to blow up a house. A caller might say “there’s children in the house, I just need you to know.” They’ve obviously got a heart somewhere as they’re thinking of the children.’
Phone numbers are scrambled when Diane picks up the phone. There’s no way of identifying the caller and conversations are not recorded, they’re noted down.
Anonymity is key. Crimestoppers agents aren’t the police, they don’t care who you are or how you know what you know. They just want the information.
Diane adds: ‘Sometimes people will blurt out what they want to say and then hang up. Probably, something intense has just happened like a drug deal gone wrong, and they’ve just jumped to call straight away.’
Cases are sensitive and calls and online forms anonymous – Crimestoppers staff really do work in the shadows.
The charity was founded by Michael Ashcroft – now Lord Ashcroft – following the death of PC Keith Blakelock during the 1985 London riots. Detectives said that someone knew who was responsible for the murder, but was afraid to come forward.
An anonymous hotline was soon launched and in the years since, 140,000 arrests have been as a result of Crimestoppers UK.
A financial incentive can also help boost appeals. This is made possible through donations from the public, foundations and other supporters. The money can help vulnerable people take the risk of sharing information and they can, potentially, even use it to escape a life of crime.
Earlier this year, a record reward was offered in Liverpool where gangs had fallen silent in the wake of Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s murder. A £200,000 reward – £100,000 was committed from Lord Ashcroft himself – and appeal helped change that. Thomas Cashman was jailed this year.
A record £200,000 reward was offered following the fatal shooting of Olivia Pratt-Korbel
The nine-year-one was murdered after Thomas Cashman – who had burst into her home as he chased a rival drug dealer
It’s not just money that drives callers, but their own moral compass. On average each year, only 1%-7% of financial rewards are actually claimed.
‘People want to do the right thing,’ Lou Peers tells Metro..co.uk.
She’s been at Crimestoppers for 18 years and risen through the ranks to become Head of Contact Centre Services.
She continues: ‘A caller might be someone in a gang or someone who has been in prison, we are a lifeline for people to unburden themselves safely.
‘There’s a number of things which set our call handlers apart from “normal” call centres. We don’t have scripts, for example. Agents are simply trained to get information from people by letting people speak uninterruptedly. If one call takes 45 minutes it takes 45 minutes. Some calls might take two minutes, but the agent is empowered to manage their call how they see fit.
Lou Peers maintains that everyone – even criminals – have a moral compass that urges them to do the right thing (Picture: Kirsten Robertson)
Crimestoppers stand by their promise that any tip-off given will not be traced back to the caller Picture: Kirsten Robertson)
‘The key question comes at the end, when agents ask “is there anything else?”
‘There is a moment of hesitation where you can almost hear cogs in their head turning. The most important information they give can sometimes be the last thing they say.’
Reports sent from Crimestoppers to the police are always tailored to ensure the caller cannot be identified.
If someone phones to say their next-door neighbour is burying something suspicious in the garden, Crimestoppers agents will take into account who else would have a view of the garden. Information is stripped out of reports if it could put the caller in danger.
On one occasion, a young woman got in touch about the fact her boyfriend slept with a firearm. When agents passed on the report to the police they said there was a gun in the house – but made no specific mention of the location.
This was to protect the woman as, if officers had made a beeline for the exact location after forcing entry, her boyfriend would know who had spoken out.
A renewed appeal was made this year following the unsolved murder of Lyn Bryant in Cornwall
Calls cannot be traced and numbers do not appear when you call Crimestoppers (Picture: Shutterstock/Gabo_Arts)
And it’s not only calls, Crimestoppers staff pore through thousands of online forms. Since introducing it’s website in 2005, it has been constantly updated to make things as easy as possible for people reporting crime.
Don’t know the specific address of somewhere? Don’t worry, you can describe it. There’s even an option to list a What3Words phrase to narrow down the area.
Computer IP addresses are never traced so there’s no way of knowing who sent the form.
Once information is passed onto the police, Crimestoppers often only find out the outcome if the case reaches the press or through police feedback.
For Diane – who used to work in finance and childcare – and Lou – who studied Egyptology at university – they never expected to have a job fighting crime.
But now, they can’t imagine anything different.
‘Every time you pick up that phone – it’s an incredibly different call,’ says Diane. ‘People trust us and talk to us like we’re friends. We get information that police couldn’t possibly get.
‘Sometimes people call and admit they are very scared. I tell them I can’t see their phone number and how we’re not recording the call. We only report the crime, this has nothing to do with you.’
Lou, talking to Metro on the 18th anniversary of her Crimestoppers career – adds: ‘The charity always evolves. In the pandemic we worked with the Home Office to set up the Covid Fraud Hotline. We also have our Most Wanted appeals.
‘Even 18 years on, the work we do here still captures my attention and imagination. The team is amazing and I want us to keep providing the service which we do. People here are genuinely proud of what we do.
‘During the pandemic I helped by taking calls again. After each one, I was reminded “this is why we do this. We are absolutely helping people and communities on a daily basis.”’
Crimestoppers operates the 0800 555 111 telephone number, allowing people to call anonymously to pass on information about crime. People can also give information anonymously via an anonymous online form on the Crimestoppers website. Callers are not required to give their name or any personal information.
Crimestoppers is an independent charity and not aligned with the police. Find out more by clicking here.
The Crimestoppers Most Wanted gallery exposes those wanted by UK law enforcement. Launched in 2005, it has been highly successful, with more than 5,000 arrests to date.
You can search by UK region, keyword or crime type, and give information to help identify, locate and arrest offenders. Contact Crimestoppers anonymously and securely on 0800 555 111 or through their online form.
It’s not just the UK, Most Wanted appeals have helped track down criminals across Europe. Spain is one of the most popular countries for British ex-pats – and can be a common hideaway for criminals.
Joshua Hendry, 30, was caught by an off-duty Spanish police officer in Marbella in 2022 as he walked his dog.
The alleged drug trafficker from Merseyside was arrested within a day of Crimestoppers and the National Crime Agency naming him as one of Britain’s most wanted fugitives.
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From a secret location, call agents search for the ‘golden nugget’ of information that could solve an investigation.