A CENTRE to help crime victims and witnesses of sex attacks has been awarded extra Government funding.

The Home Office yesterday gave £70,000 to set up new sexual assault referral centres in Durham City and Darlington.

The grant is the final slice of the £415,000 needed to set up the centres which, it is hoped, will help the investigation of sexual crimes in the Durham Constabulary area.

In Durham, the centre will be based at a £2m information centre being built at Meadowfield in partnership with Durham City Council and a private developer.

The centre - expected to open in April - will include a medical examination room, four video interview suites, facilities for collecting forensic evidence and family waiting rooms.

In Darlington, a medical examination suite opened late last year at the Blacketts Medical Practice and the second phase, with two video interview suites, will open later this year at the Park Place Surgery.

Yesterday's announcement allows managers to divert funds towards employing rape crisis counsellors and victim support workers to offer round-the-clock advice and support.

The new facilities are intended to help vulnerable and intimidated victims, including those who have suffered domestic violence, children and the elderly as well as the estimated 100 victims of rape and indecency each year.

Inspector Stu Exley welcomed yesterday's announcement. He said: "It isn't sited at a police station because that can tend to make victims more at ease - people can be self-conscious about going to the police station and there is a fear they may bump into the offender. This is something that will be there for many years to come."