Crime victims face ‘postcode lottery’ as police ‘fail to deal with day-to-day offences’ watchdog warns

Justice crisis: As The Independent shines a spotlight on the challenges facing the UK, we speak to the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Tuesday 30 August 2022 16:19 BST
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<p>Failing to tackle ‘ordinary’ crime like burglaries and thefts leaves people without confidence in the justice system, the  Victims’ Commissioner has warned </p>

Failing to tackle ‘ordinary’ crime like burglaries and thefts leaves people without confidence in the justice system, the Victims’ Commissioner has warned

“Day-to-day” crimes like bike thefts and phone snatches are not being solved by police, leaving victims without justice and without confidence in the criminal justice system, a watchdog has warned.

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said the public were “worried” by the response to common offences that leave communities shaken.

Dame Vera Baird QC told The Independent: “The way we’re likely to engage with the police is likely to be about this kind of crime and hopefully nothing worse - burglaries or having your phone snatched or your bicycle stolen, things that look quite routine and easy to deal with.

“It is confidence-sapping to find that low-level, day-to-day stuff we are used to hearing about isn’t being dealt with well by the police.

Have you struggled to get justice after ‘day to day’ crimes? If so email: lizzie.dearden@independent.co.uk.

“People think ‘goodness me, if they can’t get this right what are they doing about really serious stuff?’” she added.

Official figures show that only 4 per cent of theft offences and 6 per cent of robberies currently result in a prosecution in England and Wales, and the majority of cases are closed with the marker “investigation complete - no suspect identified”.

Overall prosecution rates have fallen to a record low of 5.6 per cent and the offences least likely to see the perpetrator behind bars are and other sex crimes.

At the same time, the number of offences recorded by police have reached an all-time high, and there are concerns that crime might rise further because of mounting desperation linked to the cost of living crisis.

Vera Baird QC is the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales

For the crimes that do result in a charge, it currently takes a year and two months between an offence being committed to the completion of a resulting crown court case - and the number is expected to rise amid rocketing backlog and a barristers’ strike.

The massive delays and chaotic changes to court dates are causing some victims to drop out of prosecutions, meaning cases are stopped and offenders go free.

Dame Vera said there was a spectrum of “serious worries about the criminal justice system” damaging public confidence.

She said at one end there are “the courts and delays and the stress”, and on the other there is the police response to “relatively ordinary crime”.

“Police investigations appear to be increasingly a postcode lottery,” the former police and crime commissioner added.

“I’m worried about the consistency and performance across a whole range of offences.”

A report published earlier this month by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found that a quarter of all thefts and domestic burglaries are concentrated in just 5 per cent of local areas, with London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands seeing the highest figures.

Some forces were preventing offences through looking at the drivers, such as drug addiction and destitution, but others did not and left perpetrators to reoffend and victims at risk of being targeted multiple times in an endless cycle of crime.

HM chief inspector of constabulary Andy Cooke has said policing of burglary, robbery, and theft ‘isn’t consistently good enough’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Andy Cooke, HM chief inspector of constabulary, said that for burglary and theft: “Too many offenders remain at liberty and most victims aren’t getting the justice they deserve.

“Depending on where in England and Wales they live, some victims of serious acquisitive crime are more likely than others to get a thorough investigation from their force. This can’t be justified.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said that recorded burglary had halved in a decade due to prevention work, and that officers were focused on targeting prolific thieves and organised crime networks.

Almost half the forces in England and Wales are in a programme that sees burglars jailed for more than a year fitted with an electronic monitoring tag on release.

A spokesperson said police chiefs have to make “difficult operational decisions” about how they dispatch officers, based on assessments of threat and risk, but work to prioritise vulnerable victims.

He added: “It is really disappointing for policing when a victim does not get the outcome they wanted or feels let down by the criminal justice system. We absolutely recognise how traumatic it is to be a victim of these types of offences, and police do take them seriously.

“Those who join the police service do so to keep people safe and get justice for victims. We have made great improvements in recent years and there is a lot of work being done across policing to ensure this continues.

“However, we recognise that there is much more that needs to be done, and police and prosecutors are doing their part - working together - to make sure we improve the experience of those affected by these devastating crimes.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said it had started publishing crime “scorecards” to increase transparency on how the police and Crown Prosecution Service are tackling rape and sexual violence.

A spokesperson added: “This government is investing a record £46m into victim support funding over the next three years and introducing a Victims’ Law to ensure they get the support they deserve.

“We had brought the pandemic-induced backlog down by around 2,000 cases, before strike action began to undermine this progress. The action comes despite the generous fee rise we are making that will see the typical criminal barrister earn £7,000 more a year.”

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