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29 June 2011, 12:27
West Yorkshire's top cop's criticised a new court ruling that could see tens of thousands of criminals escaping prosecution.
Sir Norman Bettison's described it as 'a mess.'
It comes after the ruling, made by a district judge at Salford Magistrates' Court and 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.
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.
Sir Norman Bettison went on to say:
'This means unless this is overturned police can no longer put anyone out on bail for more than 96 hours without either being in a position to charge or release.
'It's on the verge of a disaster now because the question being asked by my custody sergeants is, 'What do we do, boss?'
'I cannot countenance turning people away from the charge office and telling them all bets are off and they are free to go.''
'We are running round like headless chickens this morning wondering what this means to the nature of justice.
'My holding position with my officers is that I can't believe this is what was envisioned.
'We are awaiting advice from the CPS.
'The early indications are that until this matter is appealed or new legislation is passed the issue of putting people on bail for further questioning when they answer their bail is pretty much a dead duck.
'We are waiting, as the rest of the world is, for the best advice from the best legal minds.'
Sir Norman added he was telling his officers to continue working as they have always worked, ensuring no suspect spends more than a maximum of 96 hours actually in custody, until further guidance was issued.
About 4,260 suspects are currently on bail from his force alone - which represents about 5% of the police service - meaning about 85,200 people are on bail at any one time, he said.
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.'