Bail changes to be reviewed after suspected rapists, murders and paedophiles released without restrictions

Review comes after mounting warnings over public safety risk caused by plummeting use of oversight conditions

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 05 November 2019 20:10 GMT
Rocketing numbers of suspects have been 'released under investigation' without conditions
Rocketing numbers of suspects have been 'released under investigation' without conditions

Bail changes made by the Conservative government are being reviewed after the release of thousands of suspected violent criminals, paedophiles and rapists.

Campaigners accused ministers of putting victims and witnesses at risk by limiting the use of bail in 2017, in the face of opposition from police officers.

The changes restricted the length of pre-charge bail to 28 days, with any extension needing to be authorised by a senior officer, causing a dramatic increase in the release of suspects without any conditions.

The home secretary admitted she was aware of concerns that “pre-charge bail is not consistently being used in instances where it may be necessary to effectively manage suspects and protect victims and witnesses”.

“I’m committed to giving the police the support they need to protect the public from harm – as well as supporting victims and witnesses,” Priti Patel said on Tuesday.

“This review will ensure we put the needs of victims first and help the police investigate complex crimes whilst also continuing to make sure cases are able to be dealt with swiftly.”

The End Violence Against Women Coalition said the changes should have never been made.

“This review is a clear acknowledgement of the systematic failings to protect those most at risk – a direct result of unnecessary and ill-conceived changes to the Bail Act in 2017,” said campaigns manager Rebecca Hitchen.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that in the six months after the limit came into force, the use of police bail plummeted by three-quarters – and by two-thirds in domestic abuse cases.

Inspectors warned that a drop across all offences suggested that police were “not protecting vulnerable victims the way that they should”, adding: “There was a change in legislation and it was lost in translation.”

In September, an MP and campaigners wrote to the government warning that survivors of domestic abuse and rape were being put at risk by police officers’ failure to use bail conditions.

They can limit the threat a suspect can pose by confining them to one address, seizing their passport and banning them from contacting victims or entering certain areas.

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP who wrote the letter, welcomed the review but warned the government not to “kick the issue into the long grass [or] survivors will pay the price”.

“My research showed that over 2,500 child sexual abuse suspects were released without bail conditions in one year alone,” she added.

“This can lead to intimidation and victims dropping their case and should be a real concern for government as prosecutions for sexual violence and abuse cases are already shockingly low.”

Pressure for the Home Office to reverse the limit mounted last year, after a woman was murdered by her estranged husband after he was released under investigation.

Alan Martin had a history of domestic abuse and his victim, Kay Richardson, had reported him for rape.

In April, the Centre for Women’s Justice made a so-called super complaint to the police watchdog accusing forces of failing to use protective measures in cases of violence against women.

Amber Rudd limited the use of pre-charge bail in 2017 to stop people being kept under a ‘cloud of suspicion’

The following month, the “unintended consequences” of the reforms saw the National Police Chiefs’ Council issue fresh guidance ordering officers to use bail to protect the public.

The Home Office said its review would look at ensuring “pre-charge bail is being used where most appropriate – including where conditions are needed to protect victims and witnesses, such as in domestic abuse cases”.

A separate inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary into how police forces managed the rule changes is ongoing and is expected to report back next year.

The Law Society said that as well as putting vulnerable people at risk, the use of unlimited “release under investigation” powers was leaving innocent suspects in limbo for months or years.

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Its president, Simon Davis, called for a central register of people released under investigation to be held and for the government to increase investment to support investigations, as prosecutions plummet across all types of crime.

“Greater efficiency at the investigative stage is needed, though without wider investment we risk bottleneck effect,” he added. “Rather than reducing crime, more could fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.”

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