Victims are pulling out of prosecutions in nearly half of violence and sex cases because of fears of reprisals and plunging conviction rates, a Telegraph investigation has found.
The proportion of violence offences where the victim withdrew support for police action has more than doubled from 19 per cent in 2014 to 45.1 per cent in the year to March 2020, according to data obtained by The Telegraph.
Rape victims are pulling out of prosecutions in 41 per cent of cases, fuelled by fears of intrusive probing into their personal life, the trauma of facing their attacker in court and falling confidence that they will get justice as conviction rates have dropped to 1.5 per cent.
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, warned that the figures were the “writing on the wall” that reflected “a growing disenchantment on the part of victims with the criminal justice system.”
She said increasing delays of up to two years before cases came to court meant “increased time when witnesses and victims could be susceptible to threats or intimidation.”
“We know many people are frightened to go to court in case they meet the defendant or their supporters. There is much that can be done to improve victim support from all the criminal justice agencies,” she said.
The proportion of robberies where the victim pulled out has risen from four per cent to 17.7 per cent between 2014 and 2020, while for public order offences, the rate has quadrupled from eight per cent to 32.9 per cent.
Sexual offences, including rape, have seen the withdrawal rate double from 17 per cent to 32.6 per cent, while for theft, it has gone up from one per cent to 7.5 per cent and for criminal damage and arson, it is up from three per cent to 16 per cent.
Fears of reprisals are thought to be a major reason for victims withdrawing from prosecutions for weapons possession, which has risen from one to 8.3 per cent.
Matt Parr, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said there was a danger the public was giving up on police solving crimes particularly high-volume crimes like car thefts, minor assaults and burglaries.
He said this was having a “corrosive” effect on the public’s trust in the criminal justice system which was fuelling victims withdrawing from cases.
Just 3.2 per cent of sex offences were solved in the year to March 2020, 5.2 per cent of thefts, 6.9 per cent of violence and 7.2 per cent of robberies.
Sir Mike Penning, a former policing and justice minister, said the Government needed to urgently investigation the reasons why “justice was not being seen to be done.”
He believed victims often felt excluded from the process and were not given a real say with their impact statement after the judge had issued their sentence. “Criminal justice needs to be more victim-centred otherwise the public will lose faith in how it is operating,” he said.
Only 52 per cent of victims said they would be likely to be a witness in a criminal trial in future if they were asked to do so, according to a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) survey of 7,723 victims and witnesses.
“Either we try to understand the issues behind this disenchantment and address them or face the prospect of fewer cases getting to court because those affected by crime have simply given up on justice and walked away,” said Dame Vera.
A Government spokesman said that cutting crime and restoring faith in the criminal justice system was a priority which was why it had invested £85 million in the CPS, was increasing police numbers by 20,000 and introducing a new victims’ law.