Bail bandits delaying courts

BAIL bandits have been slammed after hundreds of court cases each year are put on hold by yobs refusing to face up to their crimes.

More than a thousand people charged with criminal offences have had warrants issued for their arrest in Hartlepool in the last three years after they failed to turn up to hearings at the town’s magistrates court.

In the last three and a half years there have been 1,257 warrants issued that have led to police spending several hours each day executing the orders of town justices as they search high and low for the court dodgers.

Victims and witnesses lose out most to the thoughtless bail cheats as they take time off work and make arrangements to be in court on a specific day only to see cases adjourned – sometimes causing cases to collapse as people do not have time to repeatedly turn up to hearings.

The figures were released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Mail and show that hundreds of bail dodgers are also a burden on taxpayers as the average magistrates’ court costs £800 a day to run, but almost one person a day is not turning up at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court.

Police chiefs have launched various operations to stop the minority who flout the system under the Mail-backed Respect Hartlepool campaign.

They are urging victims and witnesses to stick by them and make sure the criminals are brought to justice as nearly all bail dodgers end up before magistrates eventually and are dealt with.

Superintendent Glenn Gudgeon, of Hartlepool Police, said: “The impact of defendants failing to attend court goes far beyond the waste of court and police time, it can undermine victims and witnesses confidence in the criminal justice system.

“A small number of defendants know this and make non-attendance a deliberate ploy to frustrate the system.

“I would like to reassure victims and witnesses that the vast majority of cases do go ahead on the day and I appeal to all victims and witnesses to be persistent in their support of the criminal justice system to ensure that justice does prevail.”

So far this year there have been 165 warrants issued, with 330 last year, 325 in 2009 and 437 in 2008.

Operation Shadow is currently running that sees the most prolific criminals in the town checked on by officers day and night - making sure they answer bail, take part in treatment programmes for issues such as drugs, alcohol and domestic violence.

Officers are also working with various partner agencies to make sure court cases go ahead, including Victim Support that helps those who suffer at the hands of criminals.

Lorna Hilton, a Victim Support officer who is based in the York Road community office, said: “The build-up of going to court to give evidence as a witness can be very distressing and the impact can be huge when the accused doesn’t even bother to turn up on the day.

“That can only result in further anguish and distress for the victim.”

The Ministry of Justice said it is unable to comment on the subject of court bail and it cannot detail the cost of cases being halted due to bail dodgers.

Anyone who wants more information on Victim Support can ring Mrs Hilton on (01429) 855560.