According to data from police.uk, around one fourth of crimes recorded in Salisbury remain unsolved despite the suspect being known to police.
In the last 12 months and in the last three years, ‘unable to prosecute suspect’ was the third most common crime outcome for all recorded crimes.
This means that from July 2019 to June 2020 (figures for the most recent three months are not available), 1,739 cases ended with no prosecutions for identified offenders.
From August 2017 to June this year, the same applies to a total of 5,084 crimes.
While the most common crime outcome remains no suspects being identified, a Wiltshire Police detective says victims withdrawing support for prosecutions are the second most common. It is also one of around 15 reasons why suspects walk away without being prosecuted.
Det Superintendent Chris Hanson of Wiltshire Police said: “With crimes such as low-level theft, low-level damage, harassment or assault, people initially report it to us but 12 hours later they’ve reflected on it and decide they don’t want to go to court with it. It’s quite common with disputes between friends or neighbours.”
Offences such as those involving children under 16 who have engaged in consensual sexual activity or suspects below the age of criminal responsibility (10) are also quite common.
However, as they are not “in the public interest” these are not pursued.
The same happens for crimes initially reported to police but later investigated by other bodies (HMRC, the Environment Agency, Trading Standards to name a few), or non-serious incidents that happen in settings such as schools that are then dealt with by the school itself.
Other reasons include lack of evidence, the suspect in question being dead or too ill to prosecute and the victim or key witness being too ill or dead.
Asked whether having more resources would help secure more prosecutions, particularly in cases where not enough evidence has been gathered, Det Hanson said: “I don’t think so, we’re recruiting more and more and very soon we’re going to have more police officers in Wiltshire than we have had for several years.”
Although low-level crimes might not lead to prosecutions, people are still encouraged to report them.
“If they don’t then we can’t build a true picture of what’s happening in the community and crime rates dictate where we deploy our officers.
“One of our biggest frustrations is when a suspect admits further offences but we find out people haven’t reported them so then it’s more difficult for us to go back and deal with those as well.”
With most cases in which suspects are not prosecuted being non-serious crimes, the detective says Wiltshire is one of the safest counties in the UK and one that “hasn’t seen crime increase”.
“We don’t police the community, we police WITH the community and we will always do everything we can to support people that phone us and bring someone to justice.
“We don’t make any decisions on a financial basis or based on how many officers are available. If we can get someone to court and get justice for the victim, we will and even if the victim withdraws their support, if we think they are particularly vulnerable and we want to keep them safe we will do our best to build a case.”