‘No arrest delays’ after police told to take fewer suspects into custody

No arrests have been delayed after police forces in England and Wales were told to take fewer suspects into custody amid overcrowding in prisons, a minister has insisted.

Chief constables were also urged to consider pausing “any planned operations where large numbers of arrests may take place” to ease pressure on the criminal justice system, in a letter from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the Times reported.

The request, which crime and policing minister Chris Philp told MPs was a contingency measure, prompted a backlash amid concerns over public safety if the measures were put into action.

Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Lynne Owens rejected the request, saying the force “will never agree to pausing any necessary arrests” while chairwoman of the Police and Crime Commissioners Association Donna Jones said not arresting suspected criminals “will have consequences, it is not a position I can support”.

It comes as the Government prepares to expand plans to release some inmates from jail up to 70 days early to free up prison cells.

Mr Philp said Leicestershire Police Chief Constable Rob Nixon, who leads the NPCC’s work on criminal justice, had confirmed the plan was not needed.

Responding to an urgent question in the Commons on the matter, Mr Philp said: “(Rob Nixon) said (there are) no delays to arrests that he is aware of, and he has said that while a small number of people were conveyed to court in police cars and there were a small number of delays to arrival at court, no-one who should have got to court in fact did not do so.

“So, I am delighted to confirm to the House, the contingencies referenced in the letter in fact did not materialise and the short-term fluctuation referenced in the letter will be over tomorrow.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Government has “catastrophically failed to manage the criminal justice system or build the basic prison places promised”.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said it was a “disgrace that the prison overcrowding crisis has been allowed to escalate such that victims are now paying the price” as she sought urgent assurances that the guidance would not apply to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

The Prison Governors Association said it had been warning for “years” that jails could become full and called for urgent action, adding: “What we see today is a Government in panic. They have had sufficient time and warning to realise spaces were running out.”

Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, said the plan had the “potential to significantly undermine public confidence in policing and discourage victims from coming forward” as she called for solutions to prison overcrowding that “do not compromise public confidence in our justice system”.

Conservative former minister Sir Robert Neill, chairman of the Justice Committee, said “prisons are simply running out of space”.

In the Commons, Dame Diana Johnson, the Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, said the fact such plans were drawn up was “in itself worrying”, adding: “If in the future these contingencies plans are activated, what happens if the police decide not to prioritise an arrest and in the meantime that person goes on to harm someone?”

Mr Philp replied: “I want to make sure we never see the situation that she describes.”

Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, said her inbox was “full of victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual violence, child abuse, sending me cases, incidents of multiple perpetrators of multiple women are being released early from prison.”

But Mr Philp insisted the early release scheme “expressly excludes serious, violent and sexual offenders”.

The Bar Council has repeated calls for the Government to invest more money into fixing problems with the criminal justice system while Campbell Robb, chief executive for social justice charity Nacro, said: “The prisons’ crisis is a failure decades in the making that’s growing on a daily basis.

“Whilst it is vital something is done to ease pressure on the overflowing prisons system, it must be well managed, risk assessed and properly resourced.”

NPCC chairman Gavin Stephens said: “We are working closely with criminal justice system partners to manage demand in the system and ensure that the public are safe.

“Policing will always arrest anyone that they need to in order to keep the public safe, including policing protests and events and ensuring that people are arrested as expected.”