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  • Writer's pictureDanny Shaw

Bail out

Step aside Dangerous Dogs Act.

It can no longer claim the title of most ill-thought through legislation of recent times.

The 1991 Act, introduced at haste following a series of dog attacks, has lost its crown to Part 4, Chapter 1 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

Drawn up when Theresa May was Home Secretary, and implemented after she became Prime Minister and Amber Rudd had taken over at the Home Office, the legislation placed a 28-day limit on police bail, leading to hundreds of thousands of suspects in England and Wales being released after questioning without any restrictions.

It was a disastrous knee-jerk response to a handful of high-profile cases in which celebrities and journalists had spent many anxious months on bail awaiting a charging decision.

Although the ordeal they and other lesser known suspects suffered was deeply regrettable, Mrs May tackled the problem without listening to the many voices in policing who advised her against such a rigid cut-off point.

Police bail was being over-used at the time and there weren’t sufficient safeguards but the measures she put in place have endangered public safety.

In a new and significant report, the policing watchdog, HMICFRS, said the bail law has heightened the risk to victims and caused greater uncertainty for suspects - exactly the opposite of what was intended.

Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said: “We found that in many cases of domestic abuse and stalking, suspects are released under investigation instead of being formally bailed with conditions.

"This is very worrying because of the high harm and risk associated with these types of crime, and it is clear through our research that victims of domestic abuse feel less safe since the changes were made.”

The HMICFRS inspection confirmed in the clearest terms yet what other reports and studies have also found. That’s why the Government launched a review of the legislation last year and has been consulting on plans to extend the bail limit to 90 days.

I’m sure Mrs May never intended her legislation to have the effect it did. But she - and others in Government who were involved at the time - didn't take the warnings seriously enough - or ignored them altogether.

The former Prime Minister and Home Secretary of six years is a woman of integrity, an honourable person. She must surely recognise the dreadful mistake she made - and apologise.

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