Suspects were released under investigation in cases involving domestic abuse, sexual offences and offences against children when conditional bail should have been imposed on them, police and Crown Prosecution Service inspectors have found.

In a shocking report published today, HM CPS Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services criticised the ‘unacceptable’ lack of scrutiny in cases where suspects are released under investigation (RUI).

Legislation introduced in 2017 to prevent suspects being on bail for long periods of time allowed for the principle of releasing suspects under investigation. Unlike bail, there are no time limits for RUI.

In 62 of 140 charged cases that inspectors looked at, RUI was used when inspectors thought bail with conditions should have been used to protect victims. Cases included domestic abuse, sexual offences and offences against children. ‘This is extremely worrying, especially for the victims in these cases, who had no bail conditions in place to keep them safe,’ the report says.

Suspects on bail had regular contact with the police throughout the investigation. However, suspects released under investigation often heard nothing.

‘We were concerned to hear from officers we spoke with that they don’t consider it their responsibility to update the suspect at all. Some officers told us. “Why should we have to tell them anything about the investigation?”,’ the report says.

Collating digital forensic evidence was the biggest single factor for investigation delays in bail and RUI cases.

Data obtained by London firm Hickman & Rose, revealed in a Law Society briefing, showed that at least 193,000 people were languishing in legal limbo in 2017-18.

Richard Miller, the Society’s head of justice, said: ‘We have called for the introduction of time limits for those released under investigation, a consistent and case appropriate application of risk assessments, and centrally-held data for all suspects released under investigation.’

However, reform to pre-charge bail was not a ‘silver bullet’, Miller added. ‘If the government wants swift, fair and efficient justice, they must invest in every aspect of our ailing criminal justice system. Otherwise, more crime may fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.’

HM inspector of constabulary Zoe Billingham said the inspection findings have been added to the Home Office’s pre-charge bail consultation, which closed in May.