By Andrew Petherbridge, Licensed Paralegal, Neil Hudgell Solicitors – an expert in handling claims against the police for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, assault and human rights breaches.
VICTIMS of so-called ‘smaller high-volume’ offences such as criminal damage, car crime and non-residential burglaries are increasingly being asked to carry out their own ‘DIY’ investigations by police forces across the UK, a report has claimed.
Described as an “emerging trend”, police call-handlers are said to be simply advising victims to carry out their own investigations by speaking to neighbours, checking for CCTV images and seeing if their stolen property has been put up for sale on second-hand websites.
The claim comes from the official police watchdog, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which has warned such crimes are now “on the verge of being decriminalised”.
Of course, this is a move likely to outrage the majority – and will do little to lift public confidence in the police.
No matter how serious an offence, the minimum expectation of all victims when they call the police is that their case be investigated fully for them. Ideally, the police will identify the culprit, who will then be suitably punished. That’s how the system works, isn’t it?
Not according to the HMIC investigation, which found it now only remains policy to send an officer to all reports of crime in just six of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
In the other 37 forces a call-handler uses set criteria to assess whether somebody should be sent, with the report concluding that their subsequent action is “little or nothing more than recording a crime without taking further action.”
Through my work as a Licensed Paralegal at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, I have watched closely as police forces across the country have faced repeated, sweeping funding cuts. Ultimately it has led to less police officers on the beat, and of course less time and resource for the police to investigate all crimes to the level we expect.
There can be no doubt that this increasing trend is an indication of forces’ attempts to prioritise their work and place a greater focus on getting those big investigations right.
However, despite these moves, I continue to represent many clients who have been unlawfully arrested and accused of serious offences – some for sex offences and murder – simply because the police have got the wrong person.
Such cases are always highly-damaging to the overall reputation of the police, but perhaps not more so than this move to simply dismiss all smaller crimes. These are the offences which effect the most people day to day – and are still very upsetting for victims.
Whist the increased pressure on police forces has to be appreciated and understood, such a clear admission of cutting corners – and an acceptance that many criminals will go unpunished – only poses further questions as to what else is being overlooked, and could do untold damage to public confidence in the police across the UK.