Reader letter - Police cuts may damage justice

Police have charged a man with assaulting a PC. Picture: Archant

Police have charged a man with assaulting a PC. Picture: Archant

One reader believes that continued police cuts will result in 'unlawful arrests and miscarriages of justice'. Do you agree?

The excellent article 'Our sons need educating on the risk of false rape allegations' by Rachael Moore identifies a specific weakness in evidence gathering, whereby investigating officers may ignore crucial evidence that supports an accused.

The British Criminal Justice System is undoubtedly the best in the world but it retains a significant flaw that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and subsequent legislation has never addressed – and that is that it is the duty of an investigating officer to disclose all evidence obtained in relation to a prosecution.

The notorious mishandling of the suspect Christopher Jefferies for the murder of Joanna Yeates (2010) brought into sharp focus the pressures upon police for an early arrest and prosecution.

Both tabloid and social media frenzy was a factor in the mishandling of the initial enquiry, so much so that it compromised an unbiased investigation whereby Mr Jefferies was arrested without any evidence of involvement.

This should have sent a warning to the home secretary that adequate police resources do matter and that case loads that become impossible to investigate thoroughly can lead to a miscarriage of justice.

Historically, the culture of police investigations was such that the primary objective was to build a prima-facia case that would, on balance, lead to a successful prosecution, leaving the defence to build its own case. This was wrong, as the primary objective should be to seek the truth irrespective of the outcome.

The role of the Crown Prosecution Service is to evaluate and test the evidence provided but if crucial evidence is withheld or more likely, not pursued by the investigating officers, then the CPS will not have an unbiased account.

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Rape allegations are by nature difficult to prove or disprove and more often than not amount to two conflicting accounts that cannot be corroborated either way, thus the skill and professionalism of the investigating officers is crucial.

In past years, the police service has been criticised for its failure to undertake and prioritise rape investigations. Few officers were specially trained to do so but more recently the police service has responded to such criticism, perhaps to the extent that they are over-zealous in their approach to an initial complaint.

An early arrest of an innocent male will, as Rachael points out 'have devastating consequences' but this does not always register will the police who are singularly focussed upon building a prima-facia case.

Withholding or simply ignoring a potential line of enquiry that does not support case building remains a flaw in the Criminal Justice System. Underfunding, performance targets and inept leadership provides an environment where cutting corners may occur.

There is also the risk of officer fatigue that may lead to a mind-set that becomes biased towards one party or the other.

The responsibility for unbiased investigations falls upon senior officers irrespective of performance targets, officers undertaking such hazardous investigations over long period should have the facility for counselling and case loads must be manageable.

If cuts continue, there is every likelihood that unlawful arrests and miscarriages of justice is inevitable.