The hunt for the Putney Bridge jogger who pushed a woman into the path of a bus has ended in failure with police closing the case.
The seemingly unprovoked attack caused outrage in August 2017 when police released CCTV footage of the jogger pushing the 33-year-old woman in front of an oncoming bus and appealed for help catching him. The footage showed that only the bus driver’s quick reactions in swerving out of the way saved her from being run over.
The footage of the May 2017 attack swiftly went viral, with one YouTube video alone being viewed 1.3 million times.
But it seems this was not enough to allow the police to catch the jogger.
The Metropolitan Police has now announced that after officers looked at more than 50 suspects and arrested three men only to release them without charge, all lines of enquiry have been exhausted.
The failure to catch a man who nearly killed a woman in broad daylight is almost certain to raise questions not only about how the investigation was conducted, but also about the resources now available for police trying to catch criminals.
The Metropolitan Police insisted that lack of resources had nothing to do with the closure of the case, but Thursday’s development prompted a call from a former senior Scotland Yard detective for the public to wake up to a “crisis in policing” caused by government funding cuts that started when Theresa May was home secretary.
Ex-detective chief inspector Peter Kirkham insisted the Putney Bridge case was “an absolutely classic example” of what could happen when policing is starved of the resources it needs.
In comments that were backed by the Police Federation, he said: “There is a crisis in policing everywhere, and in places the service is effectively in collapse.
“The public needs to wake up to this. The crisis in the NHS is always seen in terms of funding, but for some reason the crisis in the police service is always reported as individual failures by incompetent, lazy cops – never as a lack of resources.
“What is really happening is funding for the police service has been cut drastically and there aren’t the numbers of officers needed.
“Individual officers are doing their damndest, working all the hours God sends and more, but they still can’t do all the things that they should be doing, that they want to do, and that the public expects them to do.
“But nobody is listening to these police officers: the idiots in government keep telling them to do more with less, and expecting fewer officers to do more things, which never works in any line of business.
“And yet nobody seems to be challenging such utter government stupidity.”
Mr Kirkham first raised the alarm over the Putney Bridge case in September when he said the failure to catch the jogger, along with the knife crime, acid attack and moped robbery “epidemics”, were examples of how “the police are losing control of the streets”.
Stressing that he was speaking out after receiving “call after call” from frustrated serving officers who feared being sacked if they talked publicly, Mr Kirkham said: “Theresa May has destroyed the police service.”
Mr Kirkham added: “Her mantra has always been, ‘Crime is down, police reform is working’. Well the truth is that crime recorded by the police is up and police reform is an unmitigated disaster.
“The service can’t cope. Nothing is being done properly. Criminals now think the streets are theirs.”
Mr Kirkham also explained that despite the horrified public reaction, the jogger – if caught – was only ever likely to be convicted of the relatively minor offence of common assault.
“I don’t think there were any serious injuries. I don’t think they could ever prove he intended to push her under the wheels of the bus. He has just been an arrogant idiot.”
The relatively low level of the crime if it got to court, he said, made it hard to justify spending police resources on the kind of exhaustive manhunt that occurs in murder cases.
The imperfect quality of the CCTV footage, he added, meant it was likely only a small number of the jogger’s friends and family could identify him from it – and they might be reluctant to inform on him.
In fact, said Mr Kirkham, given that the investigators had gone to the lengths of getting a second set of CCTV images, detectives had probably done everything they realistically could, and more than would be expected for the average common assault case in the current post-cuts climate.
“Detectives’ workloads have rocketed in the last seven years,” he said. “I would say the Putney Bridge case would end up on the ‘to do’ list of an overworked detective constable carrying a caseload that in 2010 might have involved 10 or 15 crimes, but which now has him dealing with 30 or 40 offences.”
Explaining the apparent three-month delay in publishing CCTV footage in August of an offence that had occurred in May, Mr Kirkham added: “I suspect they simply hadn’t got the CCTV footage before then.
“There are massive backlogs – in terms of officers having ridiculous caseloads and in terms of getting and processing CCTV.
“There are far more serious crimes than this case that aren’t being investigated very well or very quickly.”
When she was home secretary in 2015 Ms May accused the Police Federation of “crying wolf” and “scaremongering” over the impact of budget cuts on the fight against crime.
In January of this year, The Independent reported that the number of police officers had fallen to a record low, while recorded offences rose by 14 per cent.
Mr Kirkham said that in this context the failure to catch the 2017 Putney Bridge jogger was hardly a shock.
“I am not surprised,” he said. “Things have got worse, not better since last year. My only surprise was that the case wasn’t closed long ago.”
Responding to Mr Kirkham’s comments in September, a Home Office spokesman said: “We think the police have the resources and funding needed to do the job.”
When it was suggested that a lack of resources may have played a part in the closure of the Putney Bridge jogger investigation, a Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: “That’s not the case.”
In its official statement, the Metropolitan Police said: “Officers looked at over 50 people of interest during the course of the investigation; all of them were researched, reviewed and eventually eliminated.
“The matter was investigated fully with all reasonable lines of inquiry completed.
“As a suspect has not been identified and as all lines of inquiry have now been exhausted, the investigation has been closed. Should any new information come to light, this will be explored.”
Calum Macleod, Chair of the Police Federation, which represents around 120,000 rank-and-file English and Welsh police officers, said: “This is obviously not ideal and I’m sure the victim herself feels let down, but unfortunately it's no great surprise in the current crisis of policing.
“For years we have been warning against the cuts to the police service and the effects of having fewer officers. Cuts have consequences: the public don’t get the service they deserve and police officers are breaking themselves trying to give that service.”
On Thursday a Home Office spokesman said: "After speaking to all forces in England and Wales, we have increased funding to the policing system by £460m, including enabling Police and Crime Commissioners to raise an additional £280m in force funding from increases in council tax precept income.
“Metropolitan Police funding is increasing by £110m this year compared to 2017/18, including the Mayor’s contribution from Business Rates and the increase in precept income. The Metropolitan Police is receiving over £2.5 billion in direct resource funding this year, including precept.”