Paperwork delays by PSNI let 150 suspects of crime escape prosecution
Crime suspects in more than 150 cases have escaped prosecution after the PSNI failed to submit files in time to prosecutors, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Violent attacks, serious driving offences and a range of anti-social crimes are among the cases that will not be proceeded with because officers did not fill out their paperwork within the required time frame.
Police statistics show that in the past 20 months, 157 cases have been statute barred. This means that a defendant cannot be prosecuted if the file has not been forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) within six months.
The worst performing police district from March last year was F District, which comprises Cookstown, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Fermanagh and Omagh. More than 60 cases were statute barred at the time of submission to the PPS.
The PSNI said that the "disproportionately high volume of cases" in F district was because a number of files had not been submitted correctly soon after the introduction of a new database and some had in fact been dealt with several years ago. Officers now face serious questions from the Policing Board.
"I was told by Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton that as far as the PSNI was concerned this is the unpardonable sin for a police officer. If that is the case, how come there has been such a high number of statute barred cases?" said Policing Board member Jonathan Craig.
The DUP man added: "I am stunned by the number. It is quite disgraceful and very serious questions are now going to have to be asked of senior officers by the board."
The cases involved are summary only - those dealt with by magistrates courts - and include assaults, disorderly behaviour and road traffic offences.
Serious crimes such as murder, rape and armed robberies are not subject to time limits.
In December 2011 a report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate found that 40 cases per month became statute barred in the first half of that year. An internal push by the PSNI reduced the number to an average of 13 during the summer of 2011.
The figures obtained by the Belfast Telegraph show it has reduced further to an average of around seven a month.
However, Mr Craig warned that the number could increase due to cutbacks within the PSNI that will see officers having to fill posts once held by civilian workers.
Some of the offences that suspects will not be prosecuted for because the cases have become statute barred:
Common assault: 28
Driving without due care and attention: 19
Driving while unfit through drink and drugs: 7
Breach of Non Molestation Order: 7
No driving licence: 18
Disorderly behaviour: 16
Riotous behaviour: 1
Indecent behaviour: 2
Trespassing with firearm on land: 2
Source: PSNI for time period March 2013 to November 2014.