Nearly 600 criminal suspects have been kept on bail for more than six months by Yorkshire’s biggest police force, despite a drop in the number of long-term bails in the last two years.
West Yorkshire Police was revealed in 2013 to have kept more people on bail in excess of 180 days than any force in the country other than the Metropolitan Police.
The figures prompted fears that the force, which has lost hundreds of officers in the last six years, was holding off on charging suspects because it did not have the resources to bring cases to court any quicker.
By August last year, the number of people kept on bail for more than six months without being charged with an offence had dropped from 859 to 436. But it has since risen again and is now up to 581.
According to a report by West Yorkshire’s crime commissioner, since 2013 the force has “continued to actively monitor bail” and has seen a fall of 32 per cent in the number of suspects kept on pre-charge bail for 180 days.
In the same period the overall number of people on bail has fallen by 18 per cent, from 3,734 in May 2013 to 3,073 by March 29 this year.
The number of suspects who have been answered bail twice or more than six times in relation to the same alleged offence has also dropped steadily over the same period.
Suspects are released on pre-charge bail when police no longer need to keep them in detention to question them or preserve evidence, but are not in a position to charge or are waiting for a decision from the Crown Prosecution Service.
The practice of keeping suspects on bail for extended periods, most commonly used in complex fraud or historic sexual abuse investigations, has come under increased criticism.
Last March, the Home Affairs Select Committee called for reform of police bail procedures after hearing evidence from Paul Gambaccini, the broadcaster arrested on suspicion of historical sexual abuse who was on bail for a year before the case against him was dropped in October.
Keith Vaz MP, the committee chairman, said at the time: “A reform of police bail is long overdue.
“It is unacceptable that, even with little evidence, people can be kept on bail for months on end and then suddenly be told that no further action will be taken against them without providing any information as to why.”
A few days after the report was published, Home Secretary Theresa May announced reforms meaning that suspects could only be on police bail beyond 28 days in exceptional circumstances.
A Superintendent would be needed to authorise bail beyond 28 days, and any decision to extend beyond three months would have to be approved by a magistrate.
Included in a public consultation was a presumption to release suspects without bail, “with bail only being imposed when it is both necessary and proportionate”.
The West Yorkshire crime commissioner’s report said the changes to the Bail Act would likely be carried out by April 2017 at the latest.
It also addressed the high number of people arrested by West Yorkshire Police whose bail was said to be overdue. This fell from 454 in June 2014 to 342 last August, but has now risen to 445.
The report said: “A common theme when analysing bail data is the significant number showing overdue as a result of admin errors.
“The force periodically conduct housekeeping exercises to manage the volume but as the errors continue to be made on a daily basis, the numbers steadily increase again.”