Police officers fail to record a quarter of sexual offences – including rapes – and one-third of violent attacks, a damning report by the police watchdog has concluded.
More than 800,000 offences are left off the official crime figures each year in England and Wales, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) calculated, following an investigation into claims that the statistics are routinely fiddled.
HMIC condemned the performance as “inexcusably poor” and accused officers of failing victims, but found no evidence of a systematic attempt by police to cover up the true scale of crime.
Following the largest investigation ever conducted into crime-recording standards, the watchdog concluded that almost one in five (19 per cent) of all offences reported to police were not listed.
In addition, one-fifth of rapes recorded by police were wrongly downgraded at a later stage to “no crime”, HMIC said. “Offenders who should be pursued by the police for these crimes are not being brought to justice and their victims are denied services to which they are entitled,” HMIC said.
The failure to pursue more serious offences was even more dramatic, with 26 per cent of sexual offences including rape and 33 per cent of violent crime not recorded.
During the year-long inquiry, investigators identified 37 rapes that were not classified as crimes.
In about one-third of those cases, there was no record of the victim being told of the decision to abandon the investigation.
HMIC identified more than 200 rapes and more than 250 violent crimes that were mistakenly wiped from the record and said: “Offenders who should be pursued by the police for these crimes are not being brought to justice and their victims are denied services to which they are entitled.”
Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, said: “A national crime-recording rate of 81 per cent is inexcusably poor. Failure properly to record crime is indefensible. This is not about numbers and dry statistics – it’s about victims and the protection of the public.”
He named West Yorkshire, Northumberland, Avon and Somerset and Dyfed Powys as those with the worst standards of record-keeping and Staffordshire, South Wales, West Midlands and Lincolnshire as the best.
Mr Winsor praised Kent and Merseyside, which have previously been criticised on the issue, for making improvements.
HMIC said: “The most striking aspect of our analysis is that most, if not all, of the errors in crime-recording could have been rectified by effective supervision.
“However, supervisors themselves do not always understand when a crime should be recorded.”
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said the investigation “confirms my concern that there have been utterly unacceptable failings in the way police forces have recorded crime”.
HMIC said it had found “relatively little firm evidence” to suggest undue pressure was being put on officers to manipulate the figures, but Mr Winsor warned that “setting targets can distort behaviours”.