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Chiefs warn reduction in bail has ‘unintended consequences’

Thousands of suspects released by police without restrictions, research reveals

Chiefs have admitted changes to bail management could mean “missed opportunities” to protect vulnerable people as thousands of suspects are being released by police without restrictions.

The number of people being released under investigation (RUI) after being questioned by police has "dramatically increased" which is potentially putting crime victims and the public in danger, research suggests.

Victims, witnesses and suspects are being left "in limbo" and waiting months or even years for justice, claims the Law Society of England and Wales as it calls on the Home Office to implement a raft of new measures.

Society president Simon Davis said austerity cuts had led under-pressure police forces to use the 28-day time-limiting procedure for bail introduced in 2017 to "buy investigative time" – leaving victims of crime “living in fear” of being confronted by the accused.

The society wants to introduce strict time limits on RUI and ensure any extensions have senior approval; create a central register of numbers of RUIs by police area, crime and date; and increase legal aid rates for lawyers.

And Chief Constable Darren Martland, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on bail management, said the 2017 changes to bail had presented “significant challenges” to the service, resulting in a “simplistic solution to a complex problem”.

He confirmed: “We are now beginning to understand some of the unintended consequences.

"And we are concerned that a reduction in bail could mean missed opportunities to protect vulnerable people and put conditions on violent offenders that could prevent reoffending.

"At this time, there's currently insufficient evidence to judge whether increased use of release under investigation by police puts vulnerable victims at greater risk, but we have opted to minimise any potential risk through the introduction of new guidance to police officers.

"We will continue to assess the effects of recent changes to the law and implementation and will revise the guidance if necessary."

The RUI process is being used for a "full range of crimes" including serious offences such as murder without a proper process for assessing risk to the public, research carried out by the body which represents lawyers across the country suggests.

Cases are at risk of "dragging on for unlimited lengths of time" and it is replacing bail "almost entirely", according to the society.

Under the process introduced as part of bail reforms, suspects leave custody after an arrest with no restrictions in place while they remain under investigation.

Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information (FoI) request suggested some 3,874 people were released on bail in 2016-17 by Merseyside Police but this dropped to just 929 in 2017/18. Meanwhile, people released under investigation by the force ran to 15,100 in the same year.

In Thames Valley some 13,768 people were released on bail in 2016-17 but this went down to 379 in 2017/18 with people released under investigation by the force at 11,053 in the same year.

Nottingham Police released 7,932 suspects on bail in 2016-17 but just 562 the following year, while it released 4,728 under investigation.

In Surrey, officers released 5,280 suspects on bail in 2016-17 and 1,033 in 17-18 but released 4,788 under investigation that year.

The force also had longer investigations on average using RUI than on bail, according to the figures.

As expected, the Met Police figures are the highest – with 67,838 released on bail in 2016-17 and 9,881 the following year while 46,674 were released under investigation in 2017-18.

Figures for England and Wales indicated suspects questioned spent an average 228 days under investigation in 2017-18 as opposed to 45 days on bail, and 74 days on bail in the previous year.

The law was changed by the Government in 2017 in a bid to limit the time someone spends on bail to 28 days.

The move prompted the Centre for Women's Justice to make a super complaint to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in April, accusing forces of failing to use protective measures in cases of violence against females.

A month later, the "unintended consequences" of the reforms saw the NPCC issue fresh guidance to forces and HMICFRS to launch an overall inquiry into bail and RUI.

The NPCC said the figures pre-date the guidance which is "currently being implemented by forces" but officers have been told bail can still be used to protect victims and vulnerable people "where necessary and proportionate".

The Home Office said it would give "serious consideration" to all recommendations made by HMICFRS on the subject.

A department spokesman said: "We fully support the police in their use of pre-charge bail in cases where it is necessary and proportionate, including where bail conditions are needed to protect victims and witnesses.

"The National Police Chiefs' Council guidance, issued to police forces earlier this year, states that in cases involving high-harm crimes, such as domestic abuse and sexual violence, pre-charge bail should be seriously considered and senior detectives consulted if a suspect is released only under investigation.

"Cases where individuals are released under investigation must also be regularly reviewed and effectively managed, with both suspects and victims kept updated."


Kay Richardson was murdered by her estranged husband Alan Martin last year after police released him under investigation.

He had a history of domestic abuse and she had reported him for rape.

In August this year, an inquest heard how police released Alan Martin under investigation before he went back to murder his estranged wife Kay Martin.

Officers handed him back the keys to their former marital home in Sunderland after he was questioned on suspicion of raping the 49-year-old carer.

The 53-year-old bricklayer – who had a history of domestic violence – lay in wait for nearly two hours then hit her repeatedly over the head with a hammer before strangling her on September 20 last year, two days after she had obtained a non-molestation order against him from the family court.

At the inquest, officers said bail was not considered "proportionate" in this case, as there was insufficient evidence of an assault at that time and the rape allegation had been withdrawn.

This decision was made even though Ms Martin was considered high risk and her case was referred to officials who held fortnightly meetings to look to protect at-risk victims.

Lawyers also raised the case of an unnamed woman who was arrested for cannabis possession in a prison visiting area and was later found to have 10 tablets of MDMA at her home address.

They said evidence was "quickly available" and the matter could have been dealt with swiftly at court.

But police released her under investigation and the case did not come to court until 22 months later, by which time she had started a family.

Given the circumstances, the judge imposed a community order.


Lawyers from Hickman and Rose on behalf of the Law Society asked all police forces how many people it released on bail while the investigation continued between April 3, 2016 and April 2, 2017, and between April 3, 2017 and April 2 2018.

It also asked how many people were released under investigation between April 3, 2017 and April 2, 2018.

Results from the 31 forces who responded are in order of suspects released on bail 2016-17; suspects released on bail 2017-18; suspects released under investigation 2017-18, according to the data provided:

Nottinghamshire - 7,392; 562; 4,728

Thames Valley - 13,768; 379; 11,053

Northamptonshire - 2,949; 331; 2,948

Gwent - 2,950; 366; 2,307

Leicestershire - 4,786; 253; 4,266

South Wales - 5,333; 2,869; 4,191

Norfolk - 530; 889; 4,089

Suffolk - 867; 832; 3,426

British Transport Police - 246; 25; 3,232

Derbyshire - 658; 159; 9

Avon and Somerset - 7,255; 367; 5560

Cambridgeshire - 5,330; 824; 3,227

Bedfordshire - 3,317; 514; 2,357

Devon and Cornwall - 4,743; 211; 4,167

Cheshire - 4,742; 526; 4,640

North Wales - 4,247; 447; 2,625

Merseyside - 3,874; 929; 15,100

West Mercia - 7,541; 1,697; 4,920

Warwick - 2,865; 543; 2,732

Cleveland - 1,693; 78; 4,364

Staffordshire - 5,628; 463; 4,551

Lincolnshire - 3,665; 437; 3,127

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) - 12,704; 11,615; 12,839

Essex - 14,441; 3,954; 6,669

Dorset - 3,222; 87; 3,980

Hertfordshire - 1,224; 77; 2,056

Greater Manchester Police - 12,370; 1,846; 9,579

Cumbria - 3,877; 614; 3,646

Metropolitan - 67,838; 9,881; 46,674

Lancashire - 843; 1,115; 5,223

Surrey - 5,280; 1,033; 4,788.

The forces were also asked to provide data to establish the average amount of time suspects spent on bail and the average length of time they were under investigation if under the RUI system.

Results from 10 of the forces who responded are in order of average length of bail in days 2016-17; average length of bail 2017-18; average length of investigation when released under investigation 2017-18, according to the data provided:

Nottinghamshire - 104; 98; 114

Northamptonshire - 114; 70; 106

Leicestershire - 106; 98; 120

Norfolk - 54; 108; 135

Suffolk - 54; 92; 137

Cambridgeshire - 57; 43; 155

Lincolnshire - 175; 76; 170

Metropolitan - 109; 165; 79

Surrey - 74; 45; 228

PSNI - 53; 71; 143

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