Crime expert fears that 12,000 prosecutions have failed in the past two years because pieces of evidence that could convict sex attackers and killers is missing
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Alleged killers and rapists will not have faced justice after police lost thousands of pieces of evidence.
Almost 6,000 prosecutions in England and Wales collapsed in one 12-month period alone.
Items retrieved from crime scenes as well as forensic documentation, expert statements and digital records were among evidence to go missing.
Researchers uncovered “horror stories” where key evidence was found under desks, in personal lockers, on the floor and in dusty corners of police stations. Other items lay undocumented in cold storage instead of being properly recorded.
A Freedom of Information request to the Crown Prosecution Service revealed 5,806 criminal prosecutions were halted between April 2020 and March last year.
Detailed research by leading crime expert Carole McCartney, a professor at the School of Law at Northumbria University, suggests the picture could be even more alarming.
She believes as many as 12,000 prosecutions – including for murder, rape and sexual assault cases – have collapsed in the last two years.
Prof McCartney has researched extensively how police evidence is gathered, used and stored – and why it goes missing. She said: “The number of cases collapsing due to missing evidence is shocking and unforgivable – but I’m not surprised as we know from our research that significant volumes of evidence are being lost.
“There are so many horror stories. Police don’t have the space or expertise to deal with evidence in the appropriate way. We’ve had officers who said – almost three quarters of them – that exhibits had been lost.
“In data we have seen over a couple of years we are talking up to 12,000 criminal cases – some homicides, a lot of rapes and sexual assaults.
“These cases are collapsing and being attributed to problems with the evidence either not being produced or not being disclosed.
“We’ve surveyed legal professionals but also police themselves and they very often talk to us about evidence stores being full up, officers storing evidence in their desks or lockers, so there is general confusion.”
Prof McCartney believes the evidence crisis results in people being wrongly convicted and real culprits walking free.
She added: “Forces have gone through austerity and are operating on very tight budgets – very overworked. You will have police officers working on 20 investigations at a time, exhibits coming in and having to maintain the security, integrity and continuity of all those exhibits. You could have a situation where chaos reigns..
“For wrongly convicted, if evidence has been lost, destroyed or contaminated, obviously we cannot challenge people’s convictions.
“So not only do we end up with prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted and unable to secure their release – but, obviously, the actual perpetrator still remains free and unpunished and free to reoffend.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council, which gives guidance on evidence storage, said: “Where evidence is not available for a particular case there will be a dialogue between the CPS and police at a local level.”