Police fail to record 800,000 crimes a year, including one in four sex offences

Police watchdog condemns dismissal of offences reported by public, with some rape victims never told cases were dropped
Crime Mapping
The HMIC report found the problem was worst in Avon and Somerset, Dyfed-Powys, Northumbria and West Yorkshire. Photograph: Oliver Rudkin/REX/Oliver Rudkin/REX
The police are failing to record more than 800,000 offences, including a quarter of all sexual crimes, reported to them by the public each year, according to a damning official inquiry.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says it is an indefensible failure by the police to properly record the equivalent of 19% of the total official police recorded crime rate, and including a third of all violent crime.
The investigation into the integrity of police recorded crime figures says that the 26% under-recording of rapes and other sexual offences is a matter of “especially serious concern”, with inspectors finding 37 individual cases of rape that were not recorded as crimes.
The HMIC report, published on Tuesday, says that even when crimes are correctly recorded by the police, too many are removed or cancelled as recorded crimes for no good reason, including more than 200 rapes and 250 cases of violence against the person.
It says that these decisions, called “no-criming”, to incorrectly dismiss rape victims have meant that offenders who should have been pursued by the police have not been brought to justice. The inspectors add that in 22% of these no-crime cases the rape victim was never told that a decision had been taken to drop their case.
Tom Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, said: “These are wholly unacceptable failings. Some forces have exemplary records in this respect, and others are very bad. It is particularly important that in cases as serious as rape, these shortcomings are put right as a matter of the greatest urgency. In some forces, action is already being taken.”
The HMIC report found that the problem was worst in four forces, Avon and Somerset, Dyfed-Powys, Northumbria and West Yorkshire, which all failed to record more than 30% of the crime reported to them by the public. The best forces were Staffordshire, South Wales, West Midlands and Lincolnshire.
The investigation was ordered by the home secretary, Theresa May, after the police recorded crime figures lost their “gold status” as national statistics after two parliamentary inquiries heard concerns about their integrity from whistleblowers and others.
The failure of the police figures in England and Wales to record as much as 19% of the crime reported to them, however, does not undermine the credibility of the long-term historic fall in the crime rate as measured by the official crime survey of England and Wales. This is based on a survey of 40,000 people’s experience of crime and is unrelated to how the police deal with it.
The home secretary said the HMIC report had confirmed her concerns that there had been utterly unacceptable failings in the way the police record crime.
“It is never acceptable for the police to mis-record crime. Failing to do so not only lets down victims but the wider public who expect to be able to trust the integrity of police recorded crime,” May said.
Winsor said that the police needed to act immediately on the presumption that the victim is to be believed: “If evidence later comes to light which shows that no crime occurred then the record should be corrected: that is how the system is supposed to work.”
The chief inspector said that a national crime recording rate of 81% was inexcusably poor: “This is not about numbers and dry statistics – it is about victims and the protection of the public.”
The investigation was based on reviewing 10,267 reports of crime by the public and 3,240 “no-crime” decisions as well as surveying the views of 17,000 police officers and staff.
It gives two case studies to illustrate the problem.
In the first, a 13-year-old girl had reported to the police that she had been raped by an 18-year-old boy. The victim was unclear about some of the details. A full investigation was carried out but there were no witnesses and no evidence was found to prove it had happened. The officers no-crimed the report because they did not believe the victim.
But HMIC says that in the absence of evidence establishing it did happen, it should have been recorded as a rape. “To do otherwise implies that the victim is not believed.”
A second rape case was also no-crimed after the officers involved presumed the woman involved had consented. She had told the police she had known her attacker and had been drunk on the day of the rape. She had been taken into a wood by her attacker and had taken off some of her clothes despite telling him that she did not want to be there. HMIC says the fact she took off some of her clothes before she was attacked was irrelevant and consent should never be presumed. The attack should have been recorded as a rape.
The report says that the police must record an incident as a crime when a victim reports circumstances that amount to an offence as defined by the law and there is no credible evidence to the contrary.
The rules say that a crime should still be recorded even if the victim declines to provide their personal details, or does not want to take the matter further, or even if the allegation cannot be proved. They add, however, that a crime does not need to be recorded if a victim does not confirm that a crime has taken place. For instance if someone other than the victim reports an apparent street robbery, but the police can’t find the victim, then a crime is not recorded but a record is still made of the incident.
The report rejects claims that the practice of under-recording is due to “fiddled figures” or dishonest manipulation, saying that although the staff survey and interviews with whistleblowers produced many such allegations, no one came forward with firm evidence. The inspectors say that a number of police forces accepted that “undue performance pressures had adversely affected crime recording in the past, and the culture of chasing targets as ends in themselves had distorted crime-recording decisions”.
The inspectors add: “Forces today are making considerable efforts to change the culture in which these practices prevailed, but changing ingrained instincts bred of a past regime takes time.”
National targets for police performance were scrapped by the home secretary shortly after she took office four years ago.

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