Abandoned criminal cases undermines victims' confidence, says Victim Support

Old Bailey Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption More prosecutions are being dropped for lack of evidence.

The number of criminal cases dropped in England and Wales due to lack of evidence has risen - despite a fall in the number of cases brought.

Insufficient proof saw criminal proceedings against 52,288 people abandoned in 2014-15, compared with 38,132 in 2012-13.

It was equivalent to about one in 10 defendants, according to Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data.

The CPS said it needed a realistic prospect of conviction.

The charity Victim Support said dropping cases risked undermining people's confidence in the criminal justice system.

In total, the number of prosecutions against individuals fell from 794,325 in 2012-13 to 651,073 in 2014-15.

Case closed

Lack of proof stops prosecutions


Defendants prosecuted 2012-2015


Dropped due to lack of evidence

  • 794,325 defendants in 2012-13

  • 38,132 dropped that year with lack of evidence as the reason

  • 651,073 defendants in 2014-15

  • 52,288 dropped that year with lack of evidence as the reason


The figures included individuals who had been arrested and charged but where the CPS decided to drop proceedings before evidence was heard in court.

Data released under the Freedom of Information Act showed the biggest proportion of dropped prosecutions was in the Northumbria Police area.

In 2014-15, 2,688 suspects had prosecutions dropped due to lack of evidence, 12% of the total.

Prosecutors in Cumbria dropped cases against just 4% of defendants by comparison.

A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: "We investigate crimes that are reported to us professionally and proportionately.

"Ultimately the decision to discontinue a case will lie with the CPS and that decision could be made for a number of reasons whether that be lack of evidence, a witness withdrawing their support or the case no longer being in the public interest.

"Our priority will always be the victim and we will take the necessary measures to ensure appropriate support networks are in place for them and their family. That could be through our local neighbourhood team, our Safeguarding Department or the Victims First charity.

"Protecting the people of Northumbria is what drives us every single day and we will continue to do everything we can to put perpetrators of crime before the courts."

See the figures for your area here.

The biggest percentage rise in prosecutions dropped for lack of evidence since 2012 was recorded in Warwickshire. In 2012-13, there were 155 people for whom prosecutors concluded they did not have enough evidence. In 2014-15 this had risen to 387.

Dawn Hartland, the head of criminal justice at Warwickshire Police, said: "While the percentage change over the period in question is significant, particularly in Warwickshire, the figures demonstrate that the actual number of cases dropped is below the national average."

She said the force was rated within the top quartile of forces nationally for its overall file quality and conviction rate.

'Like being abused again'

Image caption Tina Southern was originally told her abuser would not be prosecuted

For Tina Southern, the original decision of the CPS not to prosecute Brian Fairchild felt like "being abused all over again".

In 2013, the decision was taken that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him for raping and sexually assaulting her as a child.

Essex Police appealed the decision and Fairchild, of Gordon Road, Corringham, was convicted at Basildon Crown Court on 30 April 2015 and jailed for 14 years for one count of rape and six counts of indecent assault.

His victim, now 51 years old, waived her right to anonymity and spoke of the original decision not to prosecute: "I can't even describe how that made me feel. It's like I was being abused all over again."

A CPS spokesman said the original decision not to charge Fairchild was reviewed and it was "considered the wrong decision may have been made and there could be additional evidence available".

Lucy Hastings, director of Victim Support, said: "We are concerned by this apparent increase in the number of cases being dropped due to lack of evidence, which may increase suffering for victims of crime and undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"Enduring the difficult and often long wait for a trial, only to discover that the case won't proceed, can be deeply distressing for victims of crime causing further upset, anger and frustration. When it happens, it is crucial that the reasons for the case being dropped are explained to the victim in full.

"Sadly, we know that sometimes cases don't go ahead because the victim or other witnesses don't have the confidence to attend the trial. That is why it is vital that victims and witnesses get the right support they need before, during and after trial."

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "All cases are kept under constant review as they progress through the criminal justice system.

"If new evidence comes to light, a witness decides to no longer support a prosecution or a co-defendant pleads guilty to the offence, the CPS will then review the case.

"If there is no longer sufficient evidence or if it is no longer in the public interest, the CPS will stop a prosecution."

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