Bail Letting Criminals off the Hook to Offend Again

By Hudson, Jenny | Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), February 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

Bail Letting Criminals off the Hook to Offend Again


Hudson, Jenny, Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)


THEY have been dubbed the "revolving doors" of the courts.

Police spend months tracking down the perpetrators behind a series of devastating crimes.

When the offender is finally caught and charged, his victims begin to feel safe and take the first steps towards rebuilding their lives.

In many cases, the whole community shares a huge sense of relief, believing the criminal is finally behind bars. Then, just a few days later, they see him out on the streets once more after being granted bail at court.

And many go on to re-offend while awaiting trial.

Alarming new figures published by the Home Office reveal a dramatic increase in the number of juveniles committing crimes while on bail.

But by law, courts must grant bail unless there is a strong possibility that the accused will offend again, interfere with witnesses or abscond. Now a top policeman has spoken out about the system which favours the criminal over both victim and law enforcer.

Supt Roger Conway, head of Dudley South Operational Command Unit, takes charge of 250 officers. He has 31 years of experience in the police force behind him.

One case illustrates exactly what is wrong with the current system, he says.

Two men were charged just before Christmas with a catalogue of crimes, including arson and an pounds 18,000 house burglary.

Both had a string of previous convictions and a long history of failing to keep to bail conditions.

One man had breached regulations 20 times, the other on 16 occasions.

Taking into account their records, magistrates refused to grant bail. But an application was made to a judge and in a private hearing, bail was given.

Within a week, one man failed to turn up at court and was arrested two days later for attempting to steal a car.

Supt Conway said: "We are already hard pressed investigating crimes and tracking down the people behind them. Then when they re-offend on bail, we end up having to do the same job all over again.

"It offers little protection for the public and takes up a lot of valuable police time. We end up chasing the people who we have already charged - rather than the rest of the criminals out there.

"I understand that by law bail must be granted unless there are good reasons for not doing so. We need to look very seriously at an offender's record on bail.

"Someone with a long history of breaking conditions 16 or 20 times should clearly be kept in custody. Equally you get some career criminals who may spend their whole lives in crime, but who will always be as good as gold when they are on bail. …

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