Belfast Telegraph

30,000 crimes in Northern Ireland linked to suspects on bail

By Cate McCurry and Adrian Rutherford

More than 30,000 crimes were linked to people on bail in Northern Ireland in the last three years, it can be revealed.

The offences - nearly 30 a day on average - include murder, rape and robbery. Others were involved in witness intimidation, arson and rioting.

The shocking disclosure will raise questions about our justice system, and whether bail is being granted too readily.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said he would raise the matter with the Chief Constable.

"The whole purpose of bail is to allow those offenders who do not pose a risk to society to live relatively freely pending trial.

"But these 30,000 cases show that something major is going wrong," he said.

In the three years from 2014 to 2017, people on bail were suspects in 30,902 crimes.

These include:

  • Eight murders;
  • 52 attempted murders;
  • 102 rapes;
  • 15 kidnappings;
  • 13 cases of rioting;
  • 175 robberies.

All of the offences were linked to people who were awaiting a court case or the conclusion of a police investigation into other matters.

In some cases the same person may have been responsible for more than one crime.

In the 12 months to last April, 1,829 people on bail were questioned about 9,608 offences, including two murders.

Not all the offences will have resulted in a conviction.

The figures show 165 cases of witness intimidation and 158 of arson across the three years.

The most common crimes were theft (3,978 cases over three years) and assault (2,837 cases).

Disorderly behaviour, drug possession and criminal damage also accounted for several thousand cases.

Mr McCrossan, who is a former member of the Policing Board, said that the level of offending could not continue.

"Clearly there are inherent failures in the system somewhere, whether that is PSNI intelligence or leniency within the judicial system," he said.

He added: "There needs to be proper safeguards put in place where protecting society should be the number one priority. This is not the case at present. I will be raising this issue with the PSNI Chief Constable, PPS and any other relevant authorities.

"This amount of offending cannot be allowed to continue unnoticed."

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, who previously sat on the Assembly's justice committee, said the legal process was largely responsible for people being released on bail.

"I am sure that in a great many cases, police are not happy that an individual is granted bail," he said.

"In many cases the decision rests in the hands of the judge, and often you hear of officers making arguments as to why bail should be opposed."

Last September the PSNI was forced to apologise to the families of two people murdered by a man who was on bail.

Sean Hegarty killed Caron Smyth and Finbar McGrillen in a flat at Ravenhill Court in east Belfast in December 2013.

Only 72 hours before the double murder, Hegarty had been in police custody for allegedly assaulting Ms Smyth, his partner - but he had been released on bail.

Chief Superintendent John McCaughan - head of the PSNI's Professional Standards Department - said police are working to tackle the issue.

"Not everybody who is placed on bail by police subsequently becomes a convicted criminal," he said.

"Bail is used to manage certain situations throughout the investigative process by the police.

"Clearly the numbers themselves are relatively high in terms of persons suspected or connected to criminal offences and that, allied with a couple of high profile incidents, has focused our minds as how we can manage risks posed by people on bail."

Belfast Telegraph

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