Police forces let suspects go free to save money: Admissions over arrest warrants follow Howard intervention

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AT LEAST two police forces are refusing to pursue some suspects and bail absconders to save money, it emerged yesterday, as Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, intervened to stop a third force introducing a similar policy.

Forces in South Wales and Derbyshire regularly decline to put arrest warrants for suspected criminals on the police national computer, the Independent has learnt.

Senior officers have been warned to save money whenever possible by avoiding 'unnecessary and expensive' trips to other parts of the country to pick up supects and 'bail bandits' accused of committing minor offences.

An inspector from South Wales yesterday admitted: 'Some people could evade justice because of financial restraints.' The forces argue that they are underfunded and crime is being prioritised.

Another money-saving scheme used by the two forces is to give people arrested for breaking bail on minor charges several chances to return to court voluntarily.

These disclosures are bound to infuriate further the Home Secretary, who yesterday moved swiftly to reverse a cost-cutting move by Avon and Somerset police.

It was revealed yesterday that the force had issued a confidential memorandum stating that it can no longer justify spending large sums of money on retrieving fugitives. As part of a six-month trial offences considered too small for circulation on the national computer included some thefts, assaults and criminal damage under pounds 750 and burglaries under pounds 150.

On hearing the news Mr Howard, who has built his reputation on being 'tough on crime', immediately held a meeting with Trefor Morris, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, who is responsible for national police standards.

Mr Morris, who was described as 'hopping mad' about the memo, contacted Donald Elliott, the Inspector of Constabulary with responsibility for Avon and Somerset, who spoke to the deputy chief constable at the force. Several hours later a statement was issued saying the scheme had been withdrawn.

It said: 'After further consideration and having regard to the views expressed by the community and discussion with Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, the memorandum has been withdrawn while our policy is further reviewed.'

Despite this U-turn other forces are using similar systems to save money. In South Wales and Derbyshire it is left to the discretion of senior officers as to which suspects are dealt with leniently.

One spokesman stressed that the scheme was primarily aimed at minor criminal offences, such as shoplifting, being drunk and disorderly, and vandalism.

A spokeswoman for the Derbyshire force confirmed that it had a similar policy to South Wales. 'It's down to the discretion of the division commander, but we now have to consider whether it's cost effective and in the public