29 June 2011, 12:20
Tens of thousands of murderers, rapists and violent criminals could escape prosecution following a 'bizarre' legal ruling by a district judge at Salford Magistrates' Court.
The ruling, backed by the High Court, means an end to the practice of releasing people on bail and calling them back for further questioning later - a common practice in most major inquiries.
The district judge at the court ruled that the detention clock continues to run while the suspect is on bail from the police station.
Paul Hookway, a murder suspect, was first arrested at 12.40pm on November 7 last year.
A superintendent granted permission for him to be detained for up to 36 hours for questioning, but he was released on bail after about 28 hours.
Five months later, on April 5, police applied to the courts to extend the period of detention from 36 hours to the maximum allowed of 96 hours but the district judge refused, saying that the 96 hours had expired months ago.
Greater Manchester Police applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the case, but Mr Justice McCombe upheld the district judge's decision on May 19 and refused leave to appeal.
The force is now seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Police forces can no longer put anyone out on bail for more than 96 hours without either being in a position to charge or release them.
After the four days is up, officers can no longer question suspects and can only re-arrest them if they have new evidence, the ruling says.
Police chiefs have been left baffled by the ``bizarre'' ruling and both the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are currently considering the ramifications for forces across England and Wales.
Home Secretary Theresa May said:
'I think this is a matter of great concern. We're working with Acpo at the moment and looking at a number of possibilities as to how we can advise the police on this issue.
'There may be an opportunity to appeal this decision
'We are also looking at whether or not it's necessary to introduce legislation in order to deal with this issue.
'We are conscious of the concerns this judgment has brought in terms of operational policing.'