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Police in Suffolk wrongly cancelled crime records for sex offences, violence and robbery, according to inspectors' report





The accuracy of crime recording in Suffolk 'requires improvement', according to the force's most recent inspectors' report.

Analysis of the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report on Suffolk Constabulary's 'crime data integrity' from 2019, by the BBC's Shared Data Unit, found that police wrongly cancelled crime records for sex offences, violence and robbery.

And the analysis, based on a sample of situations when a crime was reported but police officers later decided no crime had actually taken place, also found that in some cases they did not inform the victims of this decision.

The accuracy of crime recording in Suffolk 'requires improvement', according to the force's most recent inspectors' report
The accuracy of crime recording in Suffolk 'requires improvement', according to the force's most recent inspectors' report

In the 2019 inspection, the sample audit showed that one in 20 (or five per cent of) sexual offences and violent offences, and one in 10 (or 10 per cent of) robberies were incorrectly cancelled – but none of the 20 rape offences were incorrectly cancelled.

Whether or not a crime was 'incorrectly cancelled' is based on whether inspectors believed the correct decisions were taken to cancel crimes.

Meanwhile, 26 of the 29 victims were told when the crimes that they had reported had been cancelled – which means that 10 per cent of victims weren't informed of this decision.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said they are looking to 'further improve' the accuracy of crime reporting
A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said they are looking to 'further improve' the accuracy of crime reporting

Inspectors rated Suffolk Constabulary as 'requires improvement' overall in the 2019 report, but also in terms of crime recording accuracy.

Since this report, the police force said they have made 'concerted efforts' to improve the way crimes are recorded.

Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones of Suffolk Constabulary said: “Since the HMIC inspection in 2019, we have increased staffing levels and provided extra training in order to make improvements to our recording practices.

"We have made concerted efforts to improve and we remain committed to improving the way in which all our crimes are recorded.

Suffolk Constabulary's Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones said the force has made 'concerted efforts' to improve the way crimes are recorded
Suffolk Constabulary's Assistant Chief Constable Rob Jones said the force has made 'concerted efforts' to improve the way crimes are recorded

"The cancellation of crimes is governed by very strict criteria and can only be performed by a very small number of specifically authorised individuals.

"The decision is reviewed by a supervisor before being authorised by an independent dedicated decision maker.

"The most serious of these cancellations are subsequently audited on a monthly basis by the accredited Force Crime Registrar. Rapes can only be cancelled personally by the Force Crime Registrar.”

Looking at how other forces in England and Wales fared in their most recent reports, 19 were judged to be good or outstanding at recording crime, five were inadequate, while a further 18 required improvement.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said they are looking to 'further improve' the accuracy of crime reporting.

He said: "Our priority is to ensure that victims have the confidence to report crimes, safe in the knowledge that they will be fully investigated and that they will receive appropriate support and information.

"We are working to further improve the accuracy of crime reporting, which is governed by detailed counting rules set out by the Home Office."

The accuracy of crime recording can be influenced by 'many factors', which may not be clear at the start of an investigation, he added.

Our priority is to ensure that victims have the confidence to report crimes - National Police Chiefs' Council

"The transfer of cases from one force to another, or a different crime to the one reported being identified following an initial investigation, can impact on these figures and does not represent a recording failure.

"Additionally, it may become apparent that a crime never actually happened. In these cases, police will use the verifiable information they have obtained to justify closing a case, and will never close a case if they are merely unclear as to whether a crime happened or not.

"Forces receive regular audits from HMICFRS and work to meet objectives within their action plans through the use of in-force scrutiny panels, independent oversight, and with the help of crime incident registrars who can assist officers with the appropriate classification and recording requirements."

Meanwhile, the Home Office said they expect crimes reported to the police to be 'investigated appropriately', and Andy Higgins, research director at think tank the Police Foundation, said investigative resources are 'extremely limited' so 'particular strategies are put in place to try and strategise and prioritise'.

Mr Higgins said: "The volumes [of crimes] are massive, investigative resources are slim and will be handled by different people in different forces. It's one of those areas where the strain is.

“The bigger story is around investigator numbers, who's holding crime and the fact that the prestige CID days have gone by or aren't there any more. It's high stress, low workloads and complex stuff around rape and sexual offences.”

In what situations do crimes get cancelled?

The Home Office promotes a victim-oriented approach to crime recording.

That states that a belief by the victim that a crime has occurred is, in most cases, enough to justify its recording as a crime at the outset.

If additional verifiable information (AVI) - such as CCTV footage or a written statement from a victim - comes to light that shows a recorded crime did not take place, the crime record can later be cancelled.

An example might be when an item is initially recorded as stolen, and it later emerges it was in fact mislaid.

In 2014, a Parliamentary committee said under-recording was exaggerating the rate of decrease in crime.

The watchdog says victims should know the status of their reported crime when it has been cancelled or transferred to another force for investigation. When a crime is cancelled, victims should be given an explanation.

What is AVI?

Police forces in England and Wales can cancel or transfer a crime when one or more of five criteria are met. These criteria (referred to as C1 - 5) are as follows:

C1: Transferred: when a crime is committed outside of the jurisdiction of the police force in which it was recorded and is then passed on to that force

C2: Cancelled: Additional verifiable information determines that no notifiable crime occurred

C3: Cancelled: Duplicate record or part of a crime already recorded

C4: Cancelled: Crime recorded in error

C5: Cancelled: Self-defence claimed

Additional verifiable information is evidence that a crime did not take place, for example CCTV or a written statement. The decision to cancel a crime should be taken by officers independent of the initial investigation.

All decision makers must be properly trained in the application of AVI.

The Force Crime Registrar (FCR) should have direct oversight of decision-making.

In the case of rape and homocides, only a FCR who is listed on the College of Policing Professional register is authorised to make the cancellation.

Where a force has no Crime Registrar, the decision-maker must be the Chief Officer responsible for crime recording, who must receive advice from the Crime Registrar.

To get the latest updates in ongoing cases, police appeals and criminals put behind bars, click here

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