Almost a thousand people in Greater Manchester have been sitting on police bail for more than six months, MM has learned.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Greater Manchester Police (GMP) revealed that 659 people have been waiting on police bail for between six months and a year with 300 people waiting for more than a year.
Dated up to March this year, the figures also show that in the past five years, over 7,000 people have had to wait on police bail for more than six months.
Criminal Justice Inspector Jackie Blackburn said: “It is understandable that people may be concerned about the number of people on police bail.
“However, Greater Manchester Police is one of the largest police forces in the UK and carries a significant number of complex and long-running investigations.
“Due to their nature, these investigations, both current and historical, can take a significant amount of time to investigate and conclude.
“Of all those bailed by GMP, less than 2% are placed on bail for a period of over six months and less than 0.5% are placed on bail for a period of over 12 months.”
Being on police bail means that even after arrest and release, a person can still be called back in for questioning.
It is often used by police because the maximum time a person can remain under arrest – unless suspected of terrorism – is 96 hours.
The purpose of police bail is essentially a practical one – allowing police to continue investigations over time while also placing restrictions on any suspects.
It is also used when an individual is charged with a crime and is awaiting their first court appearance – though this usually takes no more than six weeks.
The issue was highlighted several years ago when a 2013 BBC Five Live FOI request revealed a large number of forces were using it excessively.
GMP did not release figures at that time but, strikingly, it has a higher number now than any of the 34 UK police forces that released figures back then did.
This includes London Metropolitan Police which covers an area of four and a half million more people.
As a result of the initial revelations, The Law Society called for a review of police practices and for a statutory limit on police bail of up to 28 days.
Law Society President Jonathan Smithers said of the latest figures: “The Law Society has campaigned for a change in the law on police bail for many years.
“Solicitors are aware of the very real hardship and stress caused to clients who are kept on police bail for extended periods under suspicion of having committed an offence.
“It is right that the police should pursue investigations into criminal offences diligently and expeditiously, but unnecessary delay is not in the interests of victims of crime, nor of suspects.”
Updates to the Policing and Crime Bill are currently moving through Parliament with the new 28 day limit expected to come in to effect in April 2017.
GMP said that to ensure bail procedures are in line with national legislation, they are readying a pilot policy in preparation for the new law.
Image courtesy of jayneandd via Flickr, with thanks.