Police admit 'undue delays' in 15 month investigation after burglar escapes jail
Police have admitted there were "undue delays" prosecuting a burglar after coming in for fierce criticism from a judge.
Just nine days after a burglary at the Swan Inn, Long Stratton, in November 2017, police found Wayne Tappin's DNA on a glove left at the scene.
But his case was not passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for 15 months.
Judge Katharine Moore described the delay as an "utter disgrace" after Tappin was given a suspended sentence.
In an unrelated case, Matthew Smith admitted to his employers - Uttings Ltd - he had stolen £30,000 worth of stock in summer of last year.
But police failed to pass the case file to the CPS until May, despite having interviewed Smith, 40, in November, Norwich Crown Court heard.
"At first I thought it would be inevitable you go to prison, but because of the gross delay in coming to court I am minded to suspend the sentence here," Judge Moore told Smith.
Howard Utting, owner of Uttings Ltd, said the sentence was "so disappointing".
"I was expecting him to get a custodial sentence because as the police said this was a very serious offence," he said.
Mr Utting believes the true cost of the theft to be much higher than £30,000 as missing stock has continued to be identified.
"I think it is so disappointing that we have a system where if someone waits long enough they can get off with a suspended sentence," he said.
"Especially when that person has pleaded guilty, I just can't believe the guy can steal all that and walk away.
"I appreciate the police are understaffed with a mountain of crime to investigate, but how can a judge suspend a sentence that they think an offender deserves on account that the police took too long over the case?
"He has broken the trust of the people he worked with and they are all devastated.
"We have suffered a lot"of financial loss, but even more important it is such a loss of trust and confidence for all the staff.
"They all feel betrayed, hurt and shocked."
Tappin, 38, had been part of a gang who broke into the Swan while landlord Dave Hipperson slept upstairs.
They had ransacked the pub, stole the till and smashed bottles. They tried to break into the accommodation upstairs but failed.
Judge Moore criticised the delay in police bringing Tappin to court as "utterly inexplicable and inexcusable".
"A forensic link was made by the police within a matter of days," she said.
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"The police, as it were, sat on that for 15 months."
A spokesperson for Norfolk Police said "a number of factors" had led to the delay in Tappin's case.
But they said Smith's case was dealt with in a "not untypical" timescale.
"Victims are the priority in any investigation and we understand the importance of timely justice in giving people confidence in the criminal justice system," they said.
"We will always try to pursue enquiries and progress cases in a timely manner. However, there are several factors which can affect the time taken to complete an investigation and we accept there were undue delays.
"In the case of the burglary at Long Stratton, this was due to a number of factors including investigative requirements, staff sickness, high workloads, out of force arrest requests and technical and procedural challenges with file submissions to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
"Detectives carried out a thorough investigation and while DNA evidence was secured early in the enquiry, it was on a moveable item.
"The subsequent account given by the suspect in interview had to be disproved before we could approach the CPS for charging advice. Without these additional enquiries, the DNA evidence may not have assisted so positively given the burden and standard of proof required by the court."
Andy Symonds, chairman of the Norfolk Police Federation, added the delay "is not unusual in 2019 due to the cuts over the last 10 years to policing and the wider criminal justice system".
He said: "We will always want to bring offenders to justice as swiftly as we can and we have some learning we can take from this particular case, however in reality with the intense pressures and unprecedented workloads our detectives are working with it is no surprise that these are the timescales we're working in.
"I know all of my detective colleagues care compassionately in obtaining justice for victims of crime. They work diligently and professionally on all of their investigations. However working at this level of pressure all of the time inevitably leads to detectives suffering with exhaustion and stress.
"I'm concerned that officers are being put off a career as a detective because of the long hours, high workloads, complicated court cases and their work being under-valued.
"In reality some really good detective work by my colleagues achieved a conviction in this case."
Tappin, of Wellesely Road, Clacton, admitted burglary and attempted burglary and was given a 22 month sentence suspended for 21 months.
He was also ordered to pay £1,350 in compensation and £450 costs, in addition to carrying out 180 hours of unpaid work and 20 rehabilitation days.
Smith, of Heartsease Lane, Norwich, admitted theft and was given a six month prison sentence, suspended for 21 months.
He was also given a curfew from 8.30pm to 7am and ordered to carry out 20 rehabilitation days.