Police have failed to solve a single theft in more than eight out of 10 neighbourhoods in England and Wales over the past three years, a Telegraph investigation has found.
Of nearly 21,000 neighbourhoods that suffered at least one theft in the past three years, none had been solved in 84 per cent of them, with all the cases closed with no suspect identified or charged.
Victims’ watchdogs said the “shocking” data showed that theft from the person had been “effectively decriminalised” even though it could cause serious financial loss, distress and upset to victims.
Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, said: “Theft should be the bread and butter of neighbourhood policing. For many of us, reporting theft will be our first and only engagement with our local police and the response will shape our impressions of the police and their effectiveness.
“Faced with such low rates of suspects being identified, punished or charged, many victims will wonder whether theft has effectively been decriminalised and feel like victims are increasingly being left to fend for themselves while thieves offend with impunity.”
Sir Mike Penning, former policing minister, said the figures reflected a vicious cycle where the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failed to take theft seriously which meant police officers were loath to investigate cases.
He said: “Police know the CPS are not interested and even if they get them into court, they just get a slap on the wrist. We need to prioritise crimes against the person, prioritise the victim and establish a pathway. At the same time, when you get them in court, the punishment has to match the crime.”
The analysis, of more than 155,000 offences over three years, identified 20 neighbourhoods - each on average with more than 1,500 residents - which had suffered more than 100 thefts but where none had been solved by police between June 2019 and May 2022.
A neighbourhood in central Watford, Hertfordshire, was the worst, with all 274 of its thefts over the past three years closed with no suspect identified or charged.
It was followed by neighbourhoods in Brixton North (189 unsolved), London Bridge and Bermondsey West (163), Borough and Southwark (159), Bedwell in Hertfordshire (139) and central Colchester (138).
Even when the analysis was widened to bigger districts of 7,000 to 10,000 residents, police were still failing to solve any thefts in more than two-thirds (69.2 per cent) of the areas.
Eight of the 10 worst districts were in London, including King’s Cross and Pentonville, Elephant and Castle and Islington East. These are overseen by the Metropolitan Police which was placed in special measures last month for “systemic” problems including a failure to properly investigate crime.
Last month a female photographer shared a CCTV clip on Twitter of the moment that she had more than £10,000 worth of property stolen as a thief took her Christian Dior backpack in a busy London café.
She said she had taken the footage to police but “they did nothing”. “The police didn’t even bother to look at the CCTV footage I was trying to show them,” she claimed.
In Watford, thieves have even taken to targeting a local church, with none of the thefts solved. Jordan Guthrie, 32, manager of Wellspring Church in Watford, said it had included wallets from offices, a shower head and air fresheners.
“The police said ‘we’re really sorry and we’ll try to find them, but we don’t have CCTV’. You don’t expect people to steal from a church. Everyone works really hard for their stuff and it’s disgusting that people would thieve,” said Mr Guthrie.
Personal theft includes snatch thieves who may take it by force or stealth as well as theft of personal property such as from cloakrooms. The proportion of thefts resulting in a charge has fallen from one in 40 five years ago to one in 100.
Jeffrey DeMarco, of Victim Support, said: “Theft must be taken seriously by the police in order to improve these appallingly low success rates.”