Bail turmoil may affect hundreds

ACC Sean White
ACC Sean White

A POLICE force are reassessing the bail situation of more than 1,600 suspected criminals after a High Court ruling.

A controversial decision by a district judge that has been backed by a judicial review means suspects cannot be bailed by police for more than four days without either being charged or released.

Officers had previously bailed people for weeks and months on end as part of inquiries over the last 25 years, which is said to have been a common practice in major cases such as rapes, assaults and murders.

Cleveland Police had 1,630 suspects on bail as of noon yesterday, but the figure is said to change day-to-day.

The force’s Assistant Chief Constable Sean White said: “Clearly this is a national issue and we are waiting for further clarification.

“However, in Cleveland, cases where people are currently on police bail are being assessed to see if there is any action that needs to be taken in light of this new interpretation.

“Guidance is being given to police officers to ensure that any impact on members of the public is minimised. Any amendments that need to be made in light of this new interpretation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Pace) will be done so in accordance with current legislation.”

Durham Constabulary said they will be following the national guidance by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Senior police officers were hoping to meet Home Secretary Theresa May to discuss the matter.

Mrs May has expressed “great concern” over the ruling’s effect on policing.

The Acpo lead spokesman on the issue, Essex Police Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle, said there was “chaos and concern out there” after the ruling had “thrown the whole of policing into the air”.

He added: “Unless overturned, the indications are its effect is that police can no longer put anyone out on bail for more than 96 hours without either being in a position to charge or release.

“Chief officers have significant concerns as to the effect it will have on policing.”

The district judge at Salford Magistrates’ Court ruled that the detention clock could continue to run while the suspect was on bail from the police station.

Paul Hookway, a murder suspect, was first arrested at 12.40pm on November 7 last year.

A superintendent granted permission for him to be detained for up to 36 hours for questioning, but he was released on bail after about 28 hours.

Five months later, on April 5, police applied to the courts to extend the period of detention from 36 hours to the maximum allowed of 96 hours.

But the district judge refused the application, saying that the 96 hours had expired months ago.

Greater Manchester Police applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the case. But Mr Justice McCombe upheld the district judge’s decision on May 19 and refused leave to appeal.

The force are now seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper warned the ruling will “disrupt vital ongoing investigations and hugely hamper the police in their job”.

She called on Mrs May to explain urgently what her legal advice says and how to remedy the situation to “make sure thousands of ongoing investigations aren’t lost”.

James Welch, legal director for the civil rights group Liberty, added: “Being out on bail pending investigation is not the equivalent of being detained.

“Limits on the time that suspects can be held in police custody are necessary, but there are good reasons why the police should be allowed to bail suspects for more than 96 hours.”