Police failing to solve crimes committed against elderly people, report finds

Lizzie Dearden

Police are failing to solve crimes committed against elderly people and letting perpetrators walk free, watchdogs have warned.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that care for older victims was not good enough in more than half of cases examined.

In one case, a man pushed off his mobility scooter by masked youths was not visited for a day by police officers, despite being left “shaking, fearful and scared to go out at night”.

In another, a woman with Parkinson’s disease alleged that she had been attacked by nursing home staff but the defendant was acquitted at trial after police failed to film her victim statement or give her an intermediary to help giving evidence.

Officers also failed to take a statement from a 70-year-old woman with learning difficulties who had money stolen after asking an acquaintance for help with her finances and giving them her bank details. No-one was arrested.

Another case was closed because an 83-year-old man with mental health issues was unable to give evidence in court after he was violently attacked and robbed.

The watchdogs warned that a lack of understanding about how they could find it difficult to fully remember events or give evidence in court was causing investigations to be dropped.

Wendy Williams, an HM inspector of constabulary, told The Independent that the number of cases referred by police to the Crown Prosecution Service involving victims over 60 had fallen, as well as the number of charges. Police officers just didn’t seem to be alive to the vulnerability [of older victims] and how it could affect the way they dealt with cases,” she said.

“We were concerned that it could be damaging investigations and the likelihood of prosecution. There were case studies where failures to build the case had an adverse impact on the outcome.”

Previous inspections have found that police forces are failing to respond to “lower-level” crimes because budget cuts and the loss of 20,000 officers since 2010 are forcing them to prioritise resources.

Ms Williams said some of the offences being de-prioritised, including fraud, criminal damage and minor thefts, also “tend to involve older victims”.

“The types of crimes that are committed against older people also involve things like cybercrime, so given the prevalence of that if we’re not careful we could be storing up problems for the future as the population ages,” she added.

Older people account for 18 percent of the population, but over eight out of ten victims of doorstop scams are elderly, and they also comprise a quarter of domestic homicide victims, the report said.

Inspectors found that while the response to crimes reported by over-60s was broadly good, officers did not always offer victims appropriate support or prevent the investigations being hampered by issues including memory loss, illness and mobility issues.

It said that because there is no national definition of older victims or specific guidance, police have only a “superficial understanding” of the nature and extent of crimes against older people and give them a poorer service.

The watchdog said older people were not referred to councils for protection in more than half the cases they should have been, while the use of victim support services were “too inconsistent”.

Pensioners were not always offered the support of intermediaries, or helped to give their best evidence with measures like video statements and using hearing loops.

Louise Haigh, Labour’s shadow policing minister, said: “The police and local authorities, creaking under pressure of Tory cuts and soaring demand, are unable to meet the need of vulnerable adults whenever and wherever they need it. While it is clear that consistent arrangements and a national focus on vulnerable adults are needed, this will only be effective if local authorities and the police are properly resourced to meet the demand.”

Inspectors called for the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the CPS to agree a definition of older victims and take a coordinated approach to understand and respond to the problem.

They recommended that within six months, the NPCC should establish a standard for victim needs assessments and draw up a strategy for responding to older victims with the College of Policing.

The report called for “urgent” guidelines and training for adult safeguarding procedures, to bring it up to the standard used for children at risk.

The inspectors examined 32 cases from each of six police forces, 16 charged and 16 not charged. The forces were: Greater Manchester, North Wales, Dorset, Humberside, Cambridgeshire and Gloucestershire.

Deputy Chief Constable Janette McCormick, from the College of Policing, said its updated vulnerability training had been made available to all police forces in England and Wales.

“It is concerning the inspectors found the service to some elderly people fell below expected standards and we will be working with agencies, including the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Crown Prosecution Service, to examine the report and its recommendations in detail and continue to support policing to improve the protection of vulnerable people, whatever their age,” she added.

The CPS said it had published updated policy and legal guidance for our prosecutors that addressed many issues in the report.

“We have accepted all the inspectorates' recommendations,” a spokesperson said. "Over the next six months we will improve how we identify cases where older people have been deliberately targeted and consider if they need assistance such as intermediaries or interpreters in court.

"We will also make better use of restraining orders and other ancillary measures that further protect victims beyond any sentence given to offenders."